A defense agency that is set to operate under the title of Sweden Psychological Defense Agency has been commissioned and launched to counter the spread of misinformation. The distribution of such misinformation has been credited with disruption and misleading of society.
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The Swedish administration recently created a new organization to combat “misinformation,” ostensibly to help increase the Swedish population’s psychological “resilience” in the face of “vulnerabilities in society.”
The Swedish Psychological Defense Agency, or SPDA, was established on January 1 with Henrik Landerholm, a former Swedish ambassador to Abu Dhabi, as its Director General. The agency’s stated objective is “the coordination and development of agencies’ and other actors’ activities within Sweden’s psychological defence,” with the goal of “safeguard our open and democratic society, the free formation of opinion and Sweden’s freedom and independence.”
According to an informative section on the agency’s official webpage, the institution was founded in reaction to “undue information influence and other misleading information that is directed at Sweden or Swedish interests both nationally and internationally.” The agency’s mission is to “identify, analyse, and prevent” such influences from allegedly deceiving the Swedish population.
According to the new organisation, which is part of Sweden’s Ministry of Justice, “misleading information” can induce “anxiety, heighten hatred and doubt, and make society more vulnerable.” As a result, this “can be exploited by interests that want to threaten and disrupt Swedish society and our independent decision-making,” according to the agency.
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Furthermore, the group stated that false data “can challenge the life and health of the population, societal functioning and our fundamental values such as democracy, the rule of law and human rights and freedoms.”
However, the definitions of “misinformation” and “disinformation” were kept broad and ambiguous, offering minimal indications of the forms of speech or material that would pique the agency’s operatives’ interest.
“It can be disinformation aimed at weakening the country’s resilience and the population’s will to defend itself or unduly influencing people’s perceptions, behaviours and decision making,” the website explains.
The agency tends to make similarly expansive assertions regarding the activities it will begin taking to confront perceived “misinformation,” writing in a FAQ section of the website that it will work “preventively by implementing training and exercises, conducting research, and international cooperation,” as well as by assisting in the “study and develop methods and spread knowledge to the general population and relevant actors.”
Many people “are unaware that they are spreading inaccuracies and that it can be harmful,” the government ministry said, urging citizens to be skeptical of every information they see in order to battle the propagation of “disinformation,” which they claim is “spread with malicious intent.”
It’s unclear what authority the agency has to punish individuals and organizations who are found guilty of “malicious intent” by the department.
One strategy proposed by the agency is to refer recipients of alleged misinformation to “confirmed information from agencies and other responsible actors,” that they have publicized on a governmental website named Crisis Information.
The state must provide “freedom of expression: that is, the freedom to communicate information and express thoughts, opinions and sentiments, whether orally, pictorially, in writing, or in any other way,” according to Chapter 2 of Sweden’s constitution. This statute includes the freedom of information, which is defined as “the freedom to procure and receive information and otherwise acquaint oneself with the utterances of others.”
The agency has stated that it will function well within bounds of constitutionally recognized liberties and therefore will not tamper with freedom of expression or speech.
The media contacted the agency for clarity on what steps it would take to counter perceived “disinformation” campaigns and to inquire whether any particular “misinformation” led to the founding of the agency, but received no response.
All across the coronavirus outbreak, Sweden has already been cited as an archetype of “light touch” governance in terms of COVID lockdowns and other associated restrictions.
The nation did not enforce the full-fledged lockdown imposed by its European neighbors, instead encouraging self-imposed quarantine on all those who judged it necessary, even allowing schools and sizable sectors of the economy to function normally in the absence of initiatives such as mask regulations, and trying to implement physical distancing in only narrow circumstances.