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How the Sweden Democrats' 'troll factory' tries to shape the immigration debate

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
How the Sweden Democrats' 'troll factory' tries to shape the immigration debate
File photo of Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

A Sweden Democrat 'troll factory' runs campaigns against its political opponents and collaborators, spreading videos faked with AI and posts depicting immigrants as violent, dangerous or stupid, the second part of a documentary series by broadcaster TV4 claims.

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“Their goal is to be on social media and in comments on all sorts of posts, to create an environment on social media where the Sweden Democrats and the conservative ideas appear bigger than they are,” Daniel Andersson, one of the reporters behind TV4's Kalla Fakta programme's documentary, told The Local.

Andersson spent nine months working undercover, first in the Sweden Democrats’ YouTube channel Riks and later for the party’s communications department.

Footage and information collected during his time working for the party has now formed the basis of a Kalla Fakta series on the so-called troll factory, which the Sweden Democrats had previously denied the existence of.

In the most recent episode, Kalla Fakta reveals a total of 23 different anonymous accounts spread across TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, which are all run by the Sweden Democrats. These accounts have a combined 260,000 followers and published roughly 1,000 posts in the first three months of the year, which were viewed over 27 million times.

The accounts specifically try to target younger audiences in order to influence them early on in life.

“The head of the communications department Joakim Wallerstein told me on my first day there that he had a vision of how to change people’s minds,” Andersson said. “And he said that it’s a process which starts early in life, and that’s why it’s important on social media to reach a young audience.”

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What are the posts about?

The posts produced by the accounts are for the most part memes – images, videos or text with the aim of being funny or entertaining. In some of these posts, immigrants are depicted as violent or dangerous.

In one clip, the party’s leader Jimmie Åkesson is shown pasted into a video as the driver of a tank letting off fire in Rinkeby in northwest Stockholm, an area with a large immigrant population. 

Others compare Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar to Joseph Stalin, or edit speeches by Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson so say things like “we can crush the whole country, together we can destroy Sweden”.

The clips also make fun of all three of the party’s coalition partners – the Moderates, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats – despite the fact that the four parties’ coalition agreement states that they should not attack each other.

In one clip, Wallerstein tells the group of troll factory workers to “find shit” on the Christian Democrats’ top candidate for the EU parliament, Alice Teodorescu Måwe, while others make fun of Liberal leader Johan Pehrson. 

In footage obtained by Daniel Andersson, one of the employees in the troll factory discusses what type of music to use when he should “shit on” the Moderates.

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How have the political parties reacted?

Sweden’s prime minister, Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson, told TT newswire that he “expects serious answers” from the Sweden Democrats, describing troll accounts as “truly dangerous”.

“I expect them to show us what they’ve done and apologise if they have smeared others. I expect nothing less than that,” he added.

“It undermines public confidence and risks undermining public confidence in politics more broadly,” he added.

Liberal leader Johan Pehrson described Kalla Fakta’s findings as “unacceptable”.

“Disinformation and internet hate is extremely serious,” he said. “The Sweden Democrats need to explain immediately how they plan to stop this group’s activities. Jimmie Åkesson needs to answer the media’s questions and the parties’ party secretaries must discuss how we can move forward on this issue.”

Centre Party leader Muharrem Demirok, who has sat on the national security council alongside Sweden Democrats and discussed the dangers of influence campaigns on Sweden’s democracy, described the party as a “trojan horse” in these discussions.

“They have said that they take this issue seriously, just to go home and let their keyboard warriors loose on political friends and enemies,” he added.

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What have the Sweden Democrats said?

In a six minute long YouTube video titled 'Jimmie Åkesson's speech to the nation', Åkesson hit back at Kalla Fakta's investigation, calling it a "gigantic domestic influence operation" against his party in the run-up to the EU elections.

"As usual, we are seeing uninhibited campaign journalism in the news and in 'so-called' investigative TV programmes," he said, while referring to Kalla Fakta's reports indirectly as a "home-made smear campaign often with no base in fact".

"With careful manipulation, secret filming and extreme dramatisation, they have over the last week tried to prove that we, the Sweden Democrats, are spreading disinformation and a false image of reality. The only thing they've managed to prove is how they have done exactly what they accuse us of themselves. They are engaging in true disinformation."

Back in 2022, the Sweden Democrats were accused of running a "troll factory" by left-wing newspaper Dagens ETC. At the time, the party rejected the accusations, calling ETC's article "unserious and obvious activism" in an email to SVT, while admitting that a group called Battlefield, responsible for moderating the party's comments boxes on social media, did exist at one point.

In the previous Kalla Fakta programme and in another interview with Dagens ETC, Wallerstein admits that anonymous accounts exist, although he rejects the term "troll factory".

"I don't think I've been running so called troll sites, for the simple reason that I haven't been spreading false information," he told Kalla Fakta.

Reporter Daniel Andersson believes this is nothing more than damage control from the party.

"He doesn't want to acknowledge that it is a troll factory. He doesn't see a problem with the fact that they are anonymous, or the fact that the connection to the party is hidden," Andersson said.

The party has rejected Kalla Fakta's request for interview.

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