Thu, Nov 22, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Domestic fake news takes its toll on Sweden’s elections

By Leonid Bershidsky  /  Bloomberg Opinion

As Swedish political parties struggle to form a coalition government, a growing body of research shows that social networks likely helped produce the election results that led to the impasse, and the confusion was not the result of foreign interference, but rather homegrown abuse of digital media.

Sweden, like the Netherlands and Germany last year, is going through the longest period without a government in the history of its democracy. The latest election took place on Sept. 9, but no party received enough votes to wield power and all attempts to form a governing coalition have failed so far.

On Wednesday last week, the parliament rejected an attempt by Ulf Kristersson, leader of the center-right Moderate Party, to form a minority Cabinet that would have had to rely on the support of the ultranationalist Sweden Democrats to make important decisions. Nor can Sweden’s biggest party, the Social Democrats, led by Acting Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, cobble together a majority.

Now, Annie Loof of the Center Party, which only won 9 percent of the vote, could attempt to form a coalition; her idea is to bring the Social Democrats and the Moderate Party together, even though they have shown no desire to unite.

Sweden’s electoral rules give the speaker of the parliament four shots at picking a potential prime minister. If it does not work out, a new election is held. That is a probable outcome now, but polls show the vote is likely to be inconclusive again.

The deadlock could have its origins in the growing role of the Internet in elections everywhere. Swedish Internet Foundation data showed that this year’s election campaign was the first during which an overwhelming majority of Swedes got their news online.

Despite a high degree of media literacy and relatively low trust in news shared on social media, the unprecedented fracturing of Swedish society was likely helped along by a phenomenon the Oxford Internet Institute described in a report published in September:

The proportion of “junk news” shared on social media in Sweden during the election campaign was the highest of all recent European elections and second only to the US presidential election of 2016.

Deliberately misleading content accounted for 22 percent of all links shared with political hashtags. There was one link to “junk news” shared for every two links to mainstream media publications.

Sweden had prepared to fight off a Russian propaganda and disinformation campaign. It trained officials in spotting “influence operations” and distributed millions of booklets to households, but the Oxford Internet Institute said eight of the top 10 “junk news” sources during the campaign were Swedish and “Russian sources comprised less than 1 percent of the total number of URLs shared in the data sample.”

Many of the fakes promoted anti-immigrant narratives favoring the Sweden Democrats, a party that has no willing coalition partners.

Sweden has recently taken in more immigrants as a proportion of population than any other country, and a more recent report from the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) and the London School of Economics’ (LSE) Institute of Global Affairs described an international campaign to paint the country as a hellish place of no-go zones and rampaging Muslim migrants.

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