New sex education film stokes hateful comments
The public service Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company believes that right-wing extremists could be coordinating a systematic effort to scare them into changing their programming. Is this a valid fear, or is the company over-reacting to the tidal wave of hateful and racist comments they say are posted on-line?
Cecilia Bäcklander, the head of programming for the broadcasting company, and others published an opinion piece in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, in which they claim that right-wing extremists here in Sweden are behind the storm of racist and white supremacist anger. What makes Bäcklander think this is systematic attempt to get the broadcasting company to back down on its programming agenda?
"These kind of reactions came after Dagens Nyheter had published a piece about the coming film," Bäcklander tells Radio Sweden. "So, we really felt that someone was trying to scare the people working with the film, because they were so very hateful. We don't know exactly how systematic they were, but we could see how they spread very, very quickly."
The film is called "Sex on the Map." It starts out in a school classroom with a girl drawing pictures of naked women who start to dance with each other right on the page.
The broadcasting company made the animated movie to update their old sex education film, which was made more than two decades ago and didn't take account of issues like homosexuality and ethnicity. The new film is geared towards young teenagers and is airing this month on public TV. One of the things it features is the physical relationship between a dark-skinned man and a light-skinned woman.
The broadcasting company says that the film has sparked hundreds of thousands of racist comments, such as, "It's getting easy for us to know the identity of race traitors, and when we have power, they won't get to work in the film industry anymore."
But not everybody is convinced that comments like this figure into a systematic effort to threaten the company.
Dr. Mattias Klang, a researcher in social media and digital rights at Gothenburg University, tells Radio Sweden that what the broadcasting company is probably experiencing is simply normal levels of hate on the Internet.
"I think what has happened is that the group of racists that are behind the ugliest comments saw this as an opportunity to actually ventilate," he says. "I'm pretty sure they've stoked each other into a major argument. Considering the stuff I've seen on other topics, it's difficult to see this as part of a coordinated attack against the broadcasting company."
Dr. Klang says he thinks the broadcasting company "should shrug it off and move on."
However, the broadcasting company claims it also received hateful phone calls, text messages and letters. Dr. Klang says that this changes the picture, since these actions take more effort than writing mean things on the Internet.
Dr. Klang disapproves of the way that the broadcasting company focused their opinion piece. "They're turning themselves into victims, and that's not so good," he says. He would have focused on the fact that "there is a growing number of racist comments and there might be a need to renew this discussion about how to teach equality attitudes."
Bäcklander responds, "It's very good if he also goes into the debate. We wrote what we felt was a threat – some people trying to scare us to silence and really scaring some of the people working on this film. I think all debate is welcome."