Sweden has a tv journalist who confronts internet trolls, Robert Aschberg.
The goal of Troll Hunter is not to rid the Internet of every troll. “The agenda is to raise hell about all the hate on the Net,” he says. “To start a discussion.” Back at the Troll Hunter office, a whiteboard organized Aschberg’s agenda. Dossiers on other trolls were tacked up in two rows: a pair of teens who anonymously slander their high school classmates on Instagram, a politician who runs a racist website, a male law student who stole the identity of a young woman to entice another man into an online relationship. In a sign of the issue’s resonance in Sweden, a pithy neologism has been coined to encompass all these forms of online nastiness: näthat (“Net hate”). Troll Hunter, which has become a minor hit for its brash tackling of näthat, is currently filming its second season.
It is generally no longer acceptable in public life to hurl slurs at women or minorities, to rally around the idea that some humans are inherently worth less than others, or to terrorize vulnerable people. But old-school hate is having a sort of renaissance online, and in the countries thought to be furthest beyond it.
The anonymity provided by the Internet fosters communities where people can feed on each other’s hate without consequence. They can easily form into mobs and terrify victims. Individual trolls can hide behind dozens of screen names to multiply their effect. And attempts to curb online hate must always contend with the long-standing ideals that imagine the Internet’s main purpose as offering unfettered space for free speech and marginalized ideas. The struggle against hate online is so urgent and difficult that the law professor Danielle Citron, in her new book Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, calls the Internet “the next battleground for civil rights.”
And Sweden is not immune.
Sweden’s Internet also has a disturbing underbelly. It burst into view with the so-called “Instagram riot” of 2012, when hundreds of angry teenagers descended on a Gothenburg high school, calling for the head of a girl who spread sexual slander about fellow students on Instagram. The more banal everyday harassment faced by women on the Internet was documented in a much-discussed 2013 TV special called Men Who Net Hate Women, a play on the Swedish title of the first book of Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster Millennium trilogy.
Internet hatred is a problem anywhere a significant part of life is lived online. But the problem is sharpened by Sweden’s cultural and legal commitment to free expression, according to Mårten Schultz, a law professor at Stockholm University and a regular guest on Troll Hunter, where he discusses the legal issues surrounding each case. Swedes tend to approach näthat as the unpleasant but unavoidable side effect of having the liberty to say what you wish. Proposed legislation to combat online harassment is met with strong resistance from free speech and Internet rights activists.
What’s Freeze Peach in Swedish?
Some researchers collected a ton of data from the comments section of the right-wing online publication Avpixlat.
Starting with this data, members meticulously identified many of Avpixlat’s most prolific commenters and then turned the names over to Expressen, one of Sweden’s two major tabloids. In December 2013, Expressen revealed in a series of front-page stories that dozens of prominent Swedes had posted racist, sexist, and otherwise hateful comments under pseudonyms on Avpixlat, including a number of politicians and officials from the ascendant far-right Sweden Democrats. It was one of the biggest scoops of the year. The Sweden Democrats, which have their roots in Sweden’s neo-Nazi movement, have long attempted to distance themselves from their racist past, adopting a more respectable rhetoric of protecting “Swedish culture.” But here were their members and supporters casting doubt on the Holocaust and calling Muslim immigrants “locusts.” A number of politicians and officials were forced to resign. Expressen released a short documentary of its reporters acting as troll hunters, knocking on doors and confronting Avpixlat commenters with their own words.
People should own their own words.