How Sweden Handed Its Official Twitter Account Over To A Troll

from the what's-next,-rickrolling? dept

Over the weekend, the NY Times profiled the fact that Sweden hands its official @Sweden twitter account over to a different citizen each week, and lets them control it. It was the brain child of the Swedish Institute and the national tourist agency — with the idea of showcasing some of Sweden’s quirkiness. And, from the sound of the NY Times article, it had been mostly working. Some of the tweets were a bit edgy or weird, but nothing too crazy. Until now. Right after the article came out, Sweden handed the account over to a woman named Sonja Abrahamsson — who proceeded to surprise a lot of people (including many new @Sweden followers, due to the NY Times coverage) with a series of tweets that one could deem offensive to just about anyone — including ignorant or offensive statements and questions about Jews, gays, Africans, those with downs syndrome, those with AIDS and a variety of other people/groups as well. An example:

This has, not surprisingly, received a fair bit of media attention, with people questioning what happened.

Of course, the most obvious answer is that Sweden handed its Twitter account over to a troll. The topic choices are so troll-worthy that it’s hard to believe that the person behind the account is genuinely saying these things. It seems quite clear that it’s standard troll behavior: say stupid stuff to get people to react — and tons of people are feeding the troll in response. The really stunning part, of course, is that the folks who manage the account didn’t realize this ahead of time. As multiple people have pointed out, Sonja’s own blog has plenty of evidence of similar trolling activities on a smaller scale.

And, perhaps, the Swedish tourist board actually did this on purpose. A spokesperson defended giving Sonja control of the account:

“It’s very important for us to let everyone take a unique viewpoint,” said Tommy Sollen, Social Media Manager at VisitSweden, in a phone interview. “Every one of our curators is there with a different perspective.” ….

“Some of them have been talking about music, some of them have been talking about food,” he said. “Sonja is more focused on her own brand of humor and asking probing questions.”

So they seem to recognize that trolling is a “brand of humor.” And I’m surprised that no one has yet mentioned the fact that the NY Times article was sent from the town of Trollhattan, Sweden. It’s like they were born to troll…

Of course, if Sweden is going to let @Sweden be trolled, it was only a matter of time until Stephen Colbert asked for control of the account, and urged the Colbert Nation to convince the Swedish tourism bureau to allow non-Swedes to control the account — something they’ve said they might consider “in the future.”

Oh, and while having a troll be your official representation online for a week may, at first pass, seem like a bad thing, it is worth noting that it looks like the number of people following @Sweden has more than doubled since the NY Times article came out — with much of the increase happening in just the last day or so after the whole trolling thing started to get more attention.

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Comments on “How Sweden Handed Its Official Twitter Account Over To A Troll”

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Simon says:

Oh come on!

The tweets about Jews weren’t trolling at all! Sonja was just, albeit quite ham-fisted due to her subpar English, trying to understand why it was Jews who the Nazis tried to exterminate. This is my interpretation: she was thinking about racism in other scenarios where things like skin color marks a difference between people, and couldn’t find the difference between jewish people and “caucasian” (or whatever the correct term for “white” is) (pardon my less than great English; I am also a Swede), and asked why Hitler and his pals went after the Jews. Sure, the question is very blunt, poorly written and a bit uneducated, but is it trolling to the extent that it’s racist? In my eyes, no.

She did write another couple of things, less well-known, that imho were far worse than the “Jew tweets”, but that’s a completely different story.

Brent (profile) says:

I thought that sequence of tweets from the image was hilarious. I imagined all of the angry response tweets coming in faster and faster as she kept trying to tweet a paragraph of questions but had to break it down to 140 characters each time. I started cracking up after the last one.

If i had seen all of her other tweets and obviously saw her as a troll, it wouldn’t be as funny but out of context, pretty humorous. That also goes along with the offensive nature of the tweets. By themselves, those tweets are not offensive but once you know that she’s a troll and doing it on purpose, you would take offense pretty quickly.

Garfunkel says:

Oh come on!

I agree with Simon. I was expecting a clear case of trolling thanks to the title of this article, but it didn’t come across that way when I read it. The question seems genuine to me.

One needs to realize that different parts of the world vary in their tolerance of PC versus non-PC. I’m betting most Swedes don’t see her comments as trolling either.

It’s an interesting question too. With skin color the difference is obvious, making that type of racism self explanatory. With Jewish folks it’s not so obvious, so one inevitably wonders why so much hate when there is no apparent difference between the hater and the target of their hate? Especially when being Jewish technically has nothing to do with race, something the Nazi’s were really big on. I know the answer, but from the point of view of someone who doesn’t their question would feel purely innocent.

Could it have been written better? Probably. You have to ask yourself which is more important though, enforcing your own personal definition of what’s politically correct on others, something that can be very subjective, or forgiving the person who asked in a manner that was obviously an unintentional blunder born out of language difficulties?

Anonymous Coward says:


Completely different scenario. The Sweden tweets show the many different faces (good, bad, ugly) of Sweden. It illustrates how colorful a place it is.

I don’t care to see how varied the visitors of Techdirt are.
If I wanted to go to a place where anyone can post articles, I’d go to Reddit.
I read Techdirt, because it has consistently proven itself as a place that highlights news that’s important to me and provides interesting insights. In the past, there have been commenters who have been invited to write articles here (e.g. Nina, DH, etc). They have proven themselves as insightful people that make significant contributions to discussions that are important to this community. And that’s been great. I wouldn’t come here so often,if I had to wade through lots of troll articles before I found something interesting.
ACs, like myself, purposely avoid building a history of comments. We accept not accumulating good karma as the price we pay for our anonymity. I’d recommend not letting us near the keys to the Techdirt car.

Travis (profile) says:


This is the first TD article I’ve disagreed with. If you think what Sonja said was trolling, you’ve got VERY thin skin. She actually asked some very intelligent questions, if in a bit of an off color way. Let’s be honest – unless he’s wearing traditional Jewish religious clothing – you couldn’t tell most jews from anyone else. They’re black, white, asian, african, etc. etc. etc. This is NOT Trolling. Good god people are we a little TOO sensitive about race and political correctness?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:


If you think what Sonja said was trolling, you’ve got VERY thin skin

If it was just that one set of tweets, I would have just thought her to be ignorant. But as the Forbes article points out, she’s basically hit on just about every possible hot button topic with similar tweets of ignorance. That’s what makes her a troll. Not just this set of tweets.

nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile) says:

If I’m honest I lol’d. For all the Merkins getting butthurt over this, It’s no worse than a number of American comedians such as Daniel Tosh or Sarah Silverman to give examples.

I’ve seen a late night Sarah Silverman stage broadcast which was way more offensive (directed towards Mexicans) – I was pretty shocked actually that these kinds of jokes fly in America. In some parts of the world they’d be considered hugely racist.

I suppose the medium does partially account for the level of outrage, though.

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