Since 2012, Sweden has been letting ordinary citizens take over the official @sweden Twitter account, one week at a time, with next to no oversight. It’s been risky move intended to help the country promote itself, unfiltered, as a travel destination, with each citizen serving as a kind of de facto tourism ambassador.
There have been some very notable tweeters along the way—the latest being 22-year-old Max Karlsson, who’s been using the account this week to critique President Trump for his comments about Sweden over the weekend.
In case you missed it, Trump, at a rally in Florida on Saturday, said, “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. …They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.” Confusion followed as #lastnightinsweden began trending, with many noting that no specific newsworthy event had occurred in the Scandinavian nation on Friday night.
Trump later said he was referring to a segment on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show in which filmmaker and anti-immigration activist Ami Horowitz made allegations about rising crime tied to Sweden’s refugee settlement policies and referenced alleged “no go zones” in areas with larger Muslim populations. Research by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention shows that violent crime has been in general decline since the ’90s, and two of the police officers interviewed by Horowitz for footage that aired during the Fox segment later said he mischaracterized their statements, calling him “a madman.”
Hundreds of social media users began to mock Trump and his supporters with tags like #JeSuisIKEA. And @Sweden joined in, with Karlsson, a 22-year-old Swedish Union of Tenants negotiation officer, spending much of his week on the account bashing Trump.
AdFreak spoke with Karlsson about the events of the past few days.
AdFreak: How does the @sweden account work, exactly?
Max Karlsson: You nominate a Swedish Twitter user to “Curators of Sweden.” Then, if you’re chosen by the Swedish Institute, you get a week to tweet freely about any subject, as long as you’re within the law and not promoting a product or your business.
Where did you hear about Trump’s claims, and how did you react?
I got ahold of the account Monday morning, but I’ve been preparing for about two weeks now. All of the preparation was scrapped, or at least put on hold, when Trump made his remarks, and I started drafting a strategy to be informative but still relevant. I heard about Trump’s claims right after he made them, from Swedish journalists on Twitter. The collective response was a huge, “Wait … what did he just say?”
You’ve written a lot of tweets debunking Trump’s broader allegations. Could you give some context to help Americans understand the arguments about immigration and crime?
We’re currently having a heated debate about “fake news,” combined with an increased threat from the Swedish extreme right. The larger political parties are all closing in on more populist policy decisions, and it’s been quite the ride following the progression from just a few years back. We’ve grown much harder in our immigration policies, but a lot of Swedes still maintain a pretty high self-regard based on how it used to be. My week running @sweden is not only targeted toward reaching American Trump voters—I want to converse with the Swedes, too.
You mentioned some specific right-wing political groups. Could you elaborate?
The Swedish far right has moved several positions forward, with normalization in a lot of the press and among voters. These figures, like Fjordman or Ingrid Carlqvist, are relatively invisible in an international context but well-known and generally despised over here. Some publications are maintaining a Snopes-like attitude and keeping their arguments fact-based. I think that’s really valuable.
Various outlets are reporting that riots did occur in the predominately immigrant neighborhood of Rinkeby on Monday, and some Trump supporters have argued that this incident validates his claims. How would you respond?
The thing is, it doesn’t prove Trump right unless you argue on the premise that these 30 young men—in one isolated area with a population of 12,000—are rioting based on the color of their skin, and that alone. Let’s assume they all have citizenship, because most of the youth in that area are born in Sweden to immigrant parents. What makes them “immigrant” rioters and not Swedish? Does anybody really want a debate about whether or not violence is more inherent in immigrants? Is it passed on through DNA? That’s just how close we are to arguing like it’s the happy ’30s again.
So you think supporters are making a disingenuous argument.
A sane discussion on crime is absolutely fitting. But to be able to further that discussion into policy or action, it has to involve all relevant elements like socioeconomic factors, setting, history and the incident itself—about which we still know very little. As I’ve said before, we do face challenges—but not the ones Donald Trump believes in. Also, they are saying [the rioters were] Muslim, but they mean “different race,” totally ignoring whether they’re practicing or secular. There are no facts or science supporting this claim, and I hate seeing it in the frontlines of arguments they frequently bring up.
Now that you’ve had this experience in public, do you plan to become more politically active?
This might just be a brief moment for me to express myself on a larger platform, but I haven’t thought about what to do after this week. I’m taking it one day at a time!