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Racist and sexist trolls target Sweden's Twitter account

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Racist and sexist trolls target Sweden's Twitter account
A screenshot of the account's curator responding to abuse. Photo: @Sweden/Swedish Institute
12:53 CEST+02:00
The organizers of Sweden's official Twitter account have revealed that its curators have received an increased amount of racist and sexist abuse in recent months, with the closure of the account as a result a possible outcome should the pattern continue.

Sweden grabbed global attention in 2011 when it became the first country to put its own official Twitter account into the hands of its citizens, with a different curator taking charge of it every week.

Launched by the Swedish Institute, it was widely hailed as "the world's most democratic Twitter account" and US talk show host Stephen Colbert even used his show to beg Sweden to allow him to take over the account.

It currently has over 102,000 followers on the social media platform. But since the summer there has been a marked increase in trolls targeting the curators however, the Swedish Institute's head of intercultural dialogue Henrik Selin told The Local.

“We didn't see it to this extent at all in the first five years of the account, but the growth in abuse seems to have started at some point in the beginning of the summer. We're trying to map it out and see if it's organized, and look at what kind of things may trigger it,” he said.

This week's curator is Jenny Nguyen, a Swedish law student who is currently on exchange in Hong Kong. Throughout the week she has shared the abuse she has received while using the account.

“It seems like this kind of abuse tends to be targeted at women. We're not quite sure yet if that's a key pattern, but it is mainly women who have received it over the summer,” Selin noted.

“It often seems to be new followers of the account who send the abuse, but we're looking at it just now to try and get a better picture. On other sites you can see a pattern in how trolls organize themselves, so it's possible that's the case.”

In response, the Swedish Institute has decided to make two changes this week. The first is to add a code of conduct for followers to the account's official website. The second, more radical change, is to scrap a policy of wiping the slate on accounts blocked by @Sweden every time a new curator takes over. From now on, the accounts that are blocked will remain blocked.

“We're doing that because firstly we need to care about our curators' safety: they shouldn't be afraid. Secondly, if the abuse is allowed to continue then discussions around the account will unfortunately end up being about the wrong thing. It maybe won't stop it entirely, but it's a clear line we're drawing,” Selin explained.

If the abuse doesn't lessen in the long-term, one eventual possibility could be the closure of the account.

“That's always possible,” Selin admitted. “We want to change this as much as we can, but if it doesn't work and in the end the account becomes flooded with this kind of stuff then maybe we'll start to think about whether we should continue. But we're not there yet.”

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