Don’t trust the news being shared online about the upcoming Swedish election. A third of the articles are fake! This is according to Oxford University researchers, who published a study on September 6.
The study points to widespread online disinformation in the final stages of a tightly-contested campaign which could mark a lurch to the right in one of Europe’s most prominent liberal democracies.
The authors, from the Oxford Internet Institute, labelled certain websites “junk news”, based on a range of detailed criteria. Reuters found the three most popular sites they identified have employed former members of the far-right Sweden Democrats party; one has a former MP listed among its staff.
It was not clear whether the sharing of “junk news” had affected voting intentions in Sweden, but the study helps show the impact platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have on elections, and how domestic or foreign groups can use them to exacerbate sensitive social and political issues.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, whose centre-left Social Democrats have dominated politics since 1914 but are now unlikely to secure a ruling majority, told Reuters the spread of false or distorted information online risked shaking “the foundations of democracy” if left unchecked.
The Institute, a department of Oxford University, analysed 275,000 tweets about the Swedish election from a 10-day period in August. It counted articles shared from websites it identified as “junk news” sources, defined as outlets which “deliberately publish misleading, deceptive or incorrect information purporting to be real news”.
“Roughly speaking, for every two professional content articles shared, one junk news article was shared. Junk news therefore constituted a significant part of the conversation around the Swedish general election,” it said.
According to Lisa-Maria Neudert, a researcher from the Oxford Internet Institute’s Project on Computational Propaganda, most of the “junk news” in Sweden supported right-wing policies, and was largely focused on issues around immigration and Islam.
Meanwhile, The Local reported online that Sweden’s growth could be damaged if the country leaves the European Union. This is according to Andreas Hatzigeorgiou, chief economist at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.
In an article in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper, Hatzigeorgiou refers to a report by British analyst firm Oxford Economics, which claims it would result in 73,000 fewer jobs in 2031 and a four-percent drop in GDP if Sweden were to follow in Britain’s footsteps and vote to leave the European Union.
The report also suggests that Sweden would become less open both in terms of trade and investment outside of the EU, which the economist argues would have a detrimental impact on productivity.
“Swexit would reduce the supply of labour from the EU, which would likely reduce the (overall) supply of labour and make it more difficult for businesses to find the right skills. Overall, this impedes growth,” writes Hatzigeorgiou in the opinion piece, published on September 6.