Blocked accounts on @sweden cause debate

The Twitter account @sweden, managed by the Swedish Institute, is curated by a new Swede every week in an effort to highlight freedom of speech and the diversity of opinions and ideas that Sweden stands for. Recent blockings on the account have caused debate.

Between 8 and 14 May 2017, the @sweden account was curated by an expert on internet security. During her week she made use of a previously cultivated ‘block list’ of about 14,000 Twitter accounts in an effort to proactively reduce the amount of threats and harassment that she and the account regularly are subjected to. After her week as a curator, SI initially decided to keep the accounts blocked, in line with its pre-existing policy not to unblock accounts between curators.

SI quickly realised that this decision raised many new questions about how a government agency should handle the blocking of accounts on social media and felt the need to review the issue further. As a result, SI has now unblocked all of the accounts that were blocked 8–14 May and made an official apology to anyone wrongfully blocked by the account.

‘SI has been contacted by a number of people who are upset because they feel they were blocked by @sweden on false grounds. We need to take a step back in order to more carefully review our blocking criteria,’ Jenny Ljung, head of the Brand Sweden Unit at SI, says. ‘ We truly apologise to anyone who felt blocked without cause.’

A complicated arena

The accounts that were blocked last week were largely international accounts specifically dedicated to aggression, harassment and threats as well as inciting others to behave the same way. The list also included some Swedish accounts that were blocked for similar or other reasons or based on the personal judgment of individual curators, including accounts that had never previously interacted with @sweden.

SI has previously allowed curators to block other users as they deem appropriate. Last week’s use of a block list was the first time that this occurred in a preventative, large-scale capacity. SI’s assessment is that the use of the list did contribute to a significant improvement of the tone of discourse between @sweden and other accounts – i.e. a notable reduction in the amount of aggressive and threatening interactions aimed at the account. At the same time, SI acknowledges the need to review the issue more thoroughly, particularly in relation to laws governing freedom of speech and public administration.

‘We can see that online harassment is a huge problem for freedom of speech and opinion,’ Jenny Ljung says. ‘It limits and scares people and it causes dialogue to decrease. We hope that our continued work can contribute in some way to a more humane environment on Twitter.’

SI will continue its work to handle online harassment and prioritise the security of the curators of @sweden. A thorough analysis of harassment aimed at @sweden completed at the end of 2016 showed that 75 per cent came from accounts that had never previously interacted with @sweden.

’Twitter is a complicated arena and the digital world develops quickly,’ Jenny Ljung says. ’We’re constantly developing how we work with @sweden with input from our curators and we’ve now encountered a number of questions that we’ll need to take a closer look at in order to ensure that we act correctly in a complex field.’

Read more about Curators of Sweden here.

Contacts at SI