Jewish people make up 0.16 percent of the population in Sweden. That’s slightly more than in Norway, slightly less than in Switzerland. It’s conceivable that many people growing up in Scandinavian countries — or, really, anywhere in Europe, except maybe Gibraltar — might have never met a real-live Jew. Naturally, they might be curious.
Sweden’s “official” Twitter account, @Sweden, is intensely democratic. A new citizen takes the reins every week, and although the account is managed by the Swedish government, each new personality has the freedom to express her- or himself without much restraint. One week it was a lesbian truck driver named Hanna. This week it’s Sonja (above), a single mom. It’s natural to use this platform to ask questions, even embarrassing ones; on Tuesday morning, she asked a doozy of one.
Whats the fuzz with jews. You can’t even see if a person is a jew, unless you see their penises, and even if you do, you can’t be sure!?
— @sweden / Sonja (@sweden) June 12, 2012
It begs the question: Is the government screening anything on the account? And if it is, why didn’t it screen this? Or will it? (At 11 a.m., six hours after the original post, the tweet was still live.)
More questions followed — and so did criticism, causing Sonja to respond, “I thought it was a good idea to ask the question when so many well-educated people all over the world can answer.”
Her queries are alarming for her historical ignorance and her ambivalence about why such a question might be triggering or insulting, but also for the unfortunate fact that this week, her ignorance is especially significant — it represents her entire country, whether intentionally or not.
Sweden’s post–World War II legacy is complex. During the war, Sweden, a neutral country, took in thousands of refugees but allowed German troops to traverse freely. It adopted wartime immigration laws to turn away asylum seekers from Germany, forcing many back into hostile territory and, eventually, concentration camps.
Sweden’s social-media management should be screening their guest Twitterers. This could turn into a PR nightmare. But the real issue is that if Sonja’s questions are any indication, the country is in need of some serious education about the Holocaust and its global legacy. If @Sweden’s Twitter transparency results in increased historical consciousness, the uncensored-social-media experiment, however disastrous, might not be the worst idea.[HT Gawker]
Cooper Fleishman is HyperVocal’s managing editor.
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