Sweden launched a new government agency that is allegedly aimed to combat foreign disinformation. The purpose of the new organization, called the Swedish Psychological Defence Agency, is to safeguard the country’s “open and democratic” society, free formation of opinion, as well as protect Sweden’s independence and freedom.
It will coordinate and develop the agency’s and other actors’ activities within “Sweden’s psychological defense.” In addition, the agency will provide support to companies, municipalities, organizations, and regions to strengthen resilience within the country. The psychological defense will strengthen the Swedish population’s ability to identify and resist disinformation and influence campaigns, the agency claims.
“Psychological defence must be able to identify, analyse, meet and prevent undue information influence and other misleading information that is directed at Sweden or Swedish interests both nationally and internationally. 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,” according to the organization’s website.
The new agency will be headed by Henrik Landerholm, a former Vice-Chancellor for the Swedish Defence University who has also served as an ambassador to the UAE and Latvia. He is an MP from the Moderate Party.
After his appointment, Landerholm pointed fingers at China, Russia, and Iran as the three countries that have consistently spread disinformation against Sweden. The propaganda of these nations was aimed at sowing division within Swedish society and undermining public trust in government institutions, he stated.
He added that the first part of the agency will involve conducting threat analysis; then it will assess how vulnerable Swedish people are to various types of influence; finally, it will begin building resilience in the society.
The agency will have 45 employees and intends to work together with the Swedish armed forces and institutions from civil society. It will report to the justice department. Landerholm pledged that the agency will not harm the ideals of freedom of speech.
“This is not the Ministry of Truth or a State Information Board like we had during the Cold War… We want to protect freedom of opinion in our country,” Landerholm said.
In an interview with WaPo, Magnus Hjort, the agency’s head of department, admitted that “one has to tread very carefully” when it comes to freedom of speech and insisted that Sweden must never try to limit the democratic rights of its population.
Critics, however, are concerned that the agency’s agenda to stop misinformation will be misused to censor alternative opinions that don’t fit a mainstream narrative on issues as far-ranging as COVID-19 to politics.
According to Karen Douglas, professor of social psychology at the University of Kent, the agency is less likely to face resistance from the public as it will most likely focus on equipping people with the ability to identify misinformation rather than outright blocking websites or social media.
“Blocking information and particular sources can only be so effective, because people and groups are likely to find new ways of sharing misinformation. The process of dealing with misinformation therefore becomes a bit like a game of whack-a-mole,” Douglas said.
According to a report by The Telegraph, an unpublished study by Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) has found that up to 10 percent of the Swedish population reads articles published by Russia’s Sputnik News.