Sweden’s Controversial Blocklist Based on One Feminist’s Personal Whims

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By Ian Miles Cheong | 4:19 pm, May 25, 2017

Earlier this month, Sweden’s official Twitter account earned headlines when it blocked over 14,000 people including government officials, popular YouTubers and journalists. I was included in what has been dubbed the “wrongthink list” alongside conservative journalists Lauren Southern and Cassandra Fairbanks.

The Swedish Institute, which runs the account, claims it blocked the users in a “powerful move to protect free speech.” The organization has since agreed to remove the blocklist and apologized for its misstep.

Vian Tahir

While most people, myself included, enjoyed ridiculing the organization for its ironic attempt to create a “safe space” for free speech by blocking people for their opinions, Jan Ericsson—a conservative Swedish MP for Moderaterna—questioned his place on the list. The blocklist contained two sets of names—a “verified” and “unverified,” with the former being personally vetted by its curator, Vian Tahir.

Writing to the Swedish Institute’s General Director Annika Rembe, Ericsson demanded to know why he was put on the list and why it was created with the oversight of the government-sanctioned organization. He also requested a copy of the full list of names on the blocklist, but the Swedish Institute deleted it before sending it to him.

In a translation of his letter by Adland, Ericsson called their response “unacceptable” and questioned how the organization could claim that their blocks were “verified,” especially when those in the verified set included journalists, politicians, and various Israel-related Twitter accounts, including Isaac Bachman, Israel’s ambassador to Sweden, and the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Ericsson re-tweeted leaked email conversations between Vian Tahir, the Swedish feminist who curated the Twitter account, and a Swedish Institute employee. The correspondence confirms that the blocklist was personally created by Vian Tahir based on her personal biases, and shared with the Sweden account using a website called Blocktogether.

Leaked email correspondence between Vian Tahir and Swedish Institute

“It’s a block list I’ve been working for a long time, focusing on trolls, which makes me protected from the worst of it, so I’d rather not use Twitter without it on such a big account [like @Sweden],” wrote Tahir.

It is perplexing why some people, like Swedish YouTuber Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg and a significant number of popular gaming YouTubers, are even on the list. As Adland notes, Tahir wrote an article called “When hatred becomes a game,” published at Fria.nu—a website with a progressive, feminist bent that published pieces like “Challenge your senses—listening to a dildo” and “Fat cells should be treated with the same respect as any other,” a piece on fat body positivity.

In Tahir’s article, she claims that PewDiePie has a significant following of neo-Nazis. Tahir also summarizes GamerGate as an online movement whose misogynistic supporters made a game out of harassing women online. Both claims are false. PewDiePie has since released a video to mock the whole incident.

While PewDiePie and many others may be willing to laugh it off, Jan Ericsson wants the Swedish Institute to be held accountable for its actions. After all, the government-backed organization used a public apparatus to support mass censorship—someone must answer for it.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.