Sweden’s social media experiment blows up

What began as a social media experiment and a way to promote tourism in Sweden has turned into a social media disaster of the largest scale. Since December, the Swedish government has been handing over its Twitter account to Swedish citizens, allowing them full control over the proceedings.

While previous ‘curators’ seem to have been well-received and used their time on Sweden’s Twitter account effectively, the most recent curator’s content has taken a turn for the controversial. Sonja’s reign over the past 36 hours has been riddled with homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic content, not to mention questionable photos and replies. At first glance, the account almost seems like a parody.

From the Curators of Sweden website:

As the first country in the world, Sweden hands over the country’s official Twitter account to its citizens.The project Curators of Sweden is an initiative of the Swedish institute and VisitSweden, both part of NSU, the National Board for the promotion of Sweden. Every week another person receives exclusivity over the Twitter account @sweden, which aims to present the country of Sweden through the mix of skills, experiences and opinions it actually consists of. By means of the various curators’ narrations, not one Sweden is conveyed, but several.

What’s the thought behind Curators of Sweden?

The idea with Curators of Sweden is that each curator will share both their own and relevant third party’s thoughts, stories, information and other content that is somehow linked to Sweden. The idea is that the curators, through their tweets, create interest and arouse curiosity for Sweden and the wide range the country has to offer. The expectation is that the curators will paint a picture of Sweden, different to that usually obtained through traditional media.

Below, you will find a selection of some of the more disturbing tweets posted by Sonja. Please note that the content may not be suitable for all readers and that inclusion here does not endorse the content. 


What started as an innovative use of Twitter’s platform has turned into a public relations nightmare. While the idea itself was sound, the execution could have been better. No matter how many background checks you do or how much faith you have in someone, you always run the risk of things going awry when you hand over full control to a very public channel. I’m always fairly shocked when I see a brand’s presence being handled by an intern, so finding out that a country’s presence was being handed over to a relatively unknown random citizen was even more difficult to grasp.

With the lack of apparent checks and balances for this project, I’m not surprised that things ended up how they did. What is surprising, however, is that the original owners of the account have not stepped in. Does this mean that there’s no mechanism for controlling the curator’s content once it’s posted? Do the original owners have any way of regaining control of the account?

This will certainly be an interesting story to keep tabs on.


Update (06/12):

From the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very important for us to let everyone take a unique viewpoint,” said Tommy Sollén, 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.”

Swedes frown on censorship, Mr. Sollén said, and to selectively delete posts or ban a particular participant could be seen as blatant censorship. “You cannot look at any specific tweet, you can only judge a curator on the whole week…How else are you going to show the multi-faceted people that Sweden is composed of?”

Even with this development, I’m still inclined to say this is a negative turn of events. While it’s admirable (and encouraged) to embrace a wide variety of opinions, I still have concerns about how this is reflecting on Sweden as a whole. As someone commented on my Facebook wall, it’s really a question of what sort of lens you’re viewing this from. From a curation perspective, this is certainly an interesting study and a strong advocate for democracy. From a PR perspective, one must weigh the benefits of this sort of publicity/awareness and the negative effect this might have on tourism and reputation.