The Radicalisation of Sweden’s Image: A study of how radical right groups in other countries depict Sweden online
Ideas regarding Sweden and ‘Swedishness’ have recently gained importance among radical right groups across the world in part because of the country’s response to the European refugee crisis, Islamic terrorist attacks and the Covid-19 pandemic. Studying how these groups depict Sweden online and how these depictions spread digitally to gain greater societal visibility promises to contribute to understanding radical right discourse and the dangers it poses to democratic political processes.
In this project we will analyse how Sweden, and ‘Swedishness’, is depicted online by radical right groups in the US, Germany, India and China. We will also analyse which of these depictions gain visibility in mainstream news media and how.
In recent years Sweden’s image abroad has shown signs of being reformulated in light of the country’s response to international events like the European refugee crisis, Islamic terror attacks and the Covid-19 pandemic. These events have led to distorted images of the country within international mainstream news and have also contributed to reconfiguring Sweden’s self-image. Connected with this, a number of other events suggest that reference to Sweden is becoming increasingly common within the conversations of right-wing actors across the globe.
Despite such events, the discursive depiction of Sweden by foreign radical right groups and the digital spread of such depictions remains understudied. This project therefore analyses how Sweden is depicted online by foreign radical right groups in the US, Germany, India and China and how such depictions gain visibility in mainstream news media in these countries and in Sweden itself. In turn, it seeks to better understand the role of digital media platforms in lending greater visibility to radical right ideas.
The project asks three research questions
How is Sweden discursively depicted by foreign radical right groups online?
Which foreign radical right depictions of Sweden gain visibility within mainstream news media abroad and in Sweden itself?
How do digital media platforms make these online radical right depictions more broadly visible in society?
The project will do this by first identifying and analysing how Sweden is depicted in text and images on the websites, blogs and social media accounts of known foreign radical right groups and in other radical right online forums that these groups can be expected to populate. This will be done using both computational text and image processing methods and by manually scrutinizing the content of these digital media platforms. Thereafter, traces of these depictions will be tracked within mainstream news media content using additional computational and manual techniques. These steps will inform new understandings of the role of different digital media platforms in rendering radical right depictions more visible.
With the ideas of radical right groups more generally gaining influence in mainstream media, due to the capacities of the digital media platforms that they have enthusiastically embraced, it is important to acknowledge that this also applies to those ideas that such groups hold about other countries. These ideas can be dangerous not only to democratic political processes but in a very physical sense and more widely to the various communities they threaten. Understanding these dynamics is thus key to maintaining democratic political processes and outcomes not only in Sweden but in numerous countries across the world. In this respect the project will deepen knowledge about the digital dynamics by which radical right ideas gain global mainstream visibility.