Mon, Jan 21, 2019 - Page 8 News List

The Swedish online love army who take on the trolls

#Jagarhar (#Iamhere) aims to battle abuse in online threads and jumps to defend those on the receiving end

By Makana Eyre and Martin Goillandeau  /  The Guardian, Paris

Tech executives discuss online bullying last August at a panel in Rockville, Maryland.

Photo: Reuters

When a young woman with rainbow hair and a reputation for hostility towards sexual predators won a Swedish lawyer of the year award late last year, the online reaction came in two waves.

The first was unpleasant, a torrent of bile from people who objected to Linnea Claeson’s looks, her feminist politics, her gender, her youth and her Instagram account @assholesonline.

The second was less familiar: a blizzard of positive messages — congratulations, praise for her bravery and for acting as a role model despite the abusive comments.

The surge of support was orchestrated by an organization called #Jagarhar (#Iamhere), a Facebook group of about 75,000 people, most of them in Sweden. Fed up with the rude, confrontational nature of online conversation and the way that a few bad mouths can ruin a discussion, they have made it their business to turn bad threads good.

Every day, the group aims to do what government and social media companies have failed to do: defend people being attacked online by trolls and push back against the spread of misinformation.

MOBILIZING POSITIVITY

#Jagarhar mobilizes members to add positive notes on comment sections where hatred and misinformation is being spread. This, they believe, rebalances the discussion online and disrupts Facebook’s algorithm.

“Of course, social media does not reflect the overall population, but when you read the comment field, you often get the sense that 80 percent of the population thinks that homosexuality is a disease, for example,” said Mina Dennert , #Jagarhar’s founder. “We want the comment section to look more like society and the way to do this is enable people to speak and participate.”

After #Jagarhar intervened in the comment sections talking about Claeson, the tone of the conversation improved palpably. The daily Swedish newspaper Aftenbladet even began moderating comments on its Facebook page, deleting the worst examples of hate speech.

“It’s so tiring that everything that has to do with me has such a negative connotation. Thank you for the love,” Claeson said in a Facebook post in the #Jagarhar group.

Dennert, a journalist, launched her initiative in 2016, after seeing more and more disturbing remarks on social media.

“What made me want to do something was seeing people I didn’t expect this from starting to repost really racist things,” she said.

She created a small Facebook group which started out by asking those spreading misinformation for facts to back up their statements.

The morning after Donald Trump was elected, Dennert was overwhelmed with requests from thousands of people to join her group. In the months that followed, #Jagarhar would change its approach, espousing neutrality in how its members reacted, and in most cases, simply mobilizing support for people who were being harassed online.

Dennert has won several awards for her work, including the prestigious Anna Lindh prize in 2017 for supporting just and democratic ideals. The Swedish rock group, Kent, even donated the proceeds of a photo auction to the group.

BACKLASH

But the attention also brought a massive backlash. Dennert regularly receives death threats, and at one point her father received bullets in the post. Trolls also doxed Dennert and her husband, Magnus Dennert, also a journalist, publishing sensitive personal data which they said related to the pair.

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