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Transforming Sweden through social media

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Transforming Sweden through social media
17:42 CEST+02:00
On paper, Sweden became transparent in 1776 with the enactment of freedom of information and freedom of speech laws. About 70 countries have freedom of information laws in use today. On the web, we're just about getting our feet wet, writes Sweden.se editor Rikard Lagerberg.

As in many societies, Swedish government representatives are present (or at a minimum represented) on the web – through websites, blogs and other social media. It's not surprising considering over 80 per cent of Swedes are regular internet users.

The younger the voters, the greater the chance they can be found on the web. Even so, 70 per cent of 55- to 64-year-olds in Sweden are online regularly according to figures from Statistics Sweden (SCB). And more and more activities are moving to the web as we gather information, do our banking, shopping and socializing online.

Sweden often appears at the top of various internet lists, whether they concern broadband connections, internet use or file sharing habits. Stockholm is an important global hub for new IT technology. And Swedish companies have been making themselves known for free content since Niklas Zennström introduced the world to Skype and free IP telephony back in 1993. Kazaa, Joost, Skype and The Pirate Bay also have Swedish roots.

New technological advances and changes in online behaviour have also opened up for actual dialogue and increased interaction. The wall between “visitor” and “host” is diminishing. Online social media could well be about to change the way politicians and constituents meet.

Sweden's communication with the rest of the world is also changing. During the last couple of years, the country's official website Sweden.se has strived for increased interaction and transparency through a series of bold steps. For a website to open up for live-fed, no-delay comments could be viewed as commonplace, were that site not an official country site. Blogs, feeds, tweets and all the rest soon followed. The point of it all? To be as open as possible.

And it works. We've had comments that are hilarious, sad, angry and controversial, just like in any dialogue. We receive fewer emails. We strive to meet people on a mutual standing, on neutral ground. So far Sweden.se has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds, and – sometimes under media scrutiny – in Second Life. We've had cutting-edge musicians blog on our site. And other sites with an official stamp are undergoing a similar development, experimenting with social media to interact with those interested in Sweden in new and more transparent ways.

This trend is growing even as different laws governing the internet's future freedom of information and speech are discussed at high levels throughout Europe and the world. Will the web allow the Swedish government and other governments to become more transparent in their dealings? Potential threats and opportunities are sure to reveal themselves as we go along.

But as web guru and analyst Charlene Li recently declared, social networking is becoming so important that it is like air. If governments are then willing to be there, breathing that same air as it were, the potential is enormous. Perhaps the internet's impact on government and social transparency will be legendary, and transform how we look at our individual rights the same way the 1776 laws did.

Rikard Lagerberg, editor, Sweden.se

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