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18 May, 2017 19:31

@Sweden Twitter account blocking 14k users is a threat to free speech, activists tell RT

The Swedish public and activists are outraged over the blocking of some 14,000 Twitter users by the country's official account over alleged hate speech. Those blacklisted included top Israeli politicians and Noam Chomsky.

An initiative of the Swedish Institute, the @Sweden Twitter account is run by a different person each week - either someone located in Sweden (who may or may not be a Swedish national) or a Swedish citizen abroad. It is used to promote the country around the world.

Its official rules and guidelines say the account is a "platform that supports the idea of free speech and democracy" and "invites opinions and debates." However, some 14,000 users were shocked to find they were on the account's block list, entirely unable to participate in the very benefits its boasts.

The blocking happened between May 8 and May 14, when the account was curated by Vian Tahir, an online security expert who helps protect people against online bullying and trolls. She claims those she blocked were either involved in "threats against migrants, women, and LGBTQ people," or were suspected of right-wing extremism or neo-Nazi links, The Local reported.

“At first I thought that this was Sweden being a typical politically correct [self], but then I started to see my very liberal friends like Tim Pool [award-winning journalist and VR filmmaker] on the watchlist...You see weird names popping up, like, Noam Chomsky, why is he on this list?...It makes no sense, and I think the list is ridiculous to have in the first place," Lauren Southern, a political author, commentator, and Twitter user with 272,000 followers - who was among those blocked - told RT.

While fury raged among those who realized they were on the blacklist, the Swedish Institute stood by Tahir, saying it was going to keep the list of blocked users, in order to tackle a recent surge in racist and sexist abuse.

Many took offense, as many hadn't taken part in any such abuse. In fact, the list included members of the Swedish parliament, the Israeli ambassador to Sweden and even Bill Gates.

But the names on the list aren't the only surprise revelation, according to Southern. The very fact that the list even exists is "absolutely shocking," she said.

READ MORE: Pakistan calls on Facebook, Twitter to ‘eliminate’ blasphemous content

“I’ve been put on the government watchlist by the Swedish government, for allegedly inciting hate against migrants, women, and the LGBT community, and I have a few questions for the Sweden government: why does the government need to be making this list in the first place? What is its purpose? How do they determine whose opinions are (and are not) objectionable?” Southern said.

Southern, who admitted she is right-wing and protests mass immigration, stressed that while she doesn't believe in the idea of "hate speech," she doesn't fit into the government's definition of it, either.

"I’ve never done such a thing! I've always been for peaceful protests, peaceful criticism, and I think that discussion should be allowed freely,” Southern said.

“I think it's very scary that Sweden is putting people on the list who want to simply have a discussion about it, because a lot of people do feel concerned about it.”

Another commentator, journalist and Twitter user with thousands of followers, Chang Frick, said that in his work, he “revealed racists and anti-Semites," so the list “has nothing to do with hate speech.”

“There are famous, international journalists, members of the Swedish parliament on the list, and the last time I checked, there weren’t any real Nazis there. The list is very arbitrary.”

Frick also said that one of his friends [who prefers to remain anonymous] “went to the Swedish Institute and demanded to get the list immediately.” With him, went a person “who has been working with the Swedish authorities and knows law," and [the Swedish Institute] “panicked.” So they “managed to get it in .pdf.” As a result, Frick compiled an online list for everyone to see if they are “on the official Swedish shamelist," as he put it.

Frick said he found the situation ironic.

“Some people are laughing about it, because, you know, the Swedish Institute’s purpose is to make the image of Sweden in other countries. So it’s very ironic, all of this.”

READ MORE: Twitter suspends white nationalist accounts after publishing new rules

Also, “a lot of people are comparing it to a totalitarian state,” and it seems the Swedish Institute could be covering the situation up, as “many people were trying to get the list, emailing the Institute," while the Institute replied that they had stopped blocking people which “is also illegal” as one can’t destroy any given government document, Frick underlined.

Although the Swedish Institute initially claimed the blocks had, as a whole, "contributed to increased safety on the account" and led to and improved climate of talks, it did a U-turn on Wednesday, when it said it had decided to unblock all 14,000 users. 

"SI (Swedish Institute) 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 the Swedish Institute, said.

"We truly apologize to anyone who felt blocked without cause."