Conspiracy theories about nefarious governments spread like wildfire over the Internet. Because people are so bad at fact-checking and critically analyzing things they read, many just carelessly like and share whatever material that appeals to their own ideological biases or provoke emotions such as fear or anger. As the fake information circles the globe, skeptical analyses that disprove the myths and highlight the real facts take a long time to write and gets very little attention.
In January of 2016, a brutal knife attack occurred at a Swedish facility for care and housing. The perpetrator was an asylum seeker and the victim was a 22-year-old woman working there. She died from her wounds and the perpetrator was convicted both in the district court and the court of appeals and sentenced to forced psychiatric care (with special discharge review), expulsion from the country and 33 200 USD in damages. The Supreme Court decided to not hear the case. This case was covered extensively in the Swedish media, starting only 30 minutes after the emergency call and carried on for the rest of the year. In total, there were at least 70 news articles written about the event and the social and legal aftermath on four large Swedish newspaper websites.
Due to a misunderstanding of Swedish law, Daily Mail blocked Swedish visitors from reading three of their low quality propaganda articles about the crime. They thought that they could be liable and sued in Swedish courts for their reporting in the U. K., but this is not true (although the reverse is possible). This ignorant action spawned a massive conspiracy theory where the Swedish government allegedly blocked the Daily Mail articles so that people living in Sweden would be “prevented from learning the truth” about the alleged “harmful effects of refugees and immigration” and that it is “no wonder that Swedes do not know what is going on in their own country”. Needless to say, this conspiracy theory is demonstrably false and is just one of the many conspiracy theories that are being pushed abroad about Sweden and immigration.
Background: What happened during the knife attack and resulting court cases?
Alexandra Mezher was a 22-year-old woman who worked at a Swedish facility for care and housing (“Hem för vård eller boende”, abbreviated HVB) in Mölndal outside of Gothenburg.
These homes are either run by the municipality or private owners who are approved by the Swedish Health and Social Care Inspectorate (IVO) that include housing, treatment and care for children, youngsters or families that have some need that are covered social services. It is also for unaccompanied minors who are seeking asylum in Sweden or have gotten a permanent residence permit (IVO, 2016; Hjulström, 2016).
On the chilly Monday morning of January 25 in 2016 she was working alone at the facility that specialized in taking care of unaccompanied children and teenagers (Grönholm, Sköld and Petersen, 2016; Svensson, 2016).
During the past months and years, there had been an increased number of people seeking asylum in Sweden and an expansion of new facilities owned by private persons and organizations. The law states that the home should have staff on location at all times, but does not include any minimum number and regulations have been relaxed even further to cover just times when the people living there are home (Svensson, 2016).
The police call came at 07:46 (Berntsson, Dahlén Persson and Olausson, 2016). Alexandra was brutally attacked with a knife by one of the people living there (Magnå, 2016; Grönholm, Sköld and Petersen, 2016). In total, she was stabbed three times: in the thigh, the back and the hand (Magnå, 2016). The other people living at the house restrained the perpetrator until police arrived (Magnå, 2016). The wounds were so severe that she died later that morning at the hospital. She bled out because the stab wound in the thigh damaged an artery and she would likely have survived if that had not happened (Magnå, 2016). The police interviewed several witnesses and arrested a suspect later on the same day. A detailed police investigation and prosecution was carried out. The perpetrator claims to not remember what happened and did neither confess nor deny that he killed her (Magnå, 2016).
The perpetrator was convicted in a local district court for especially severe physical assault and severe involuntary manslaughter for his attack on Alexandra as well as attempted severe physical assault on another person living there (Magnå, 2016; Göthlin, 2016). He was sentenced to forced psychiatric care (with special discharge review), 300 000 Swedish kronor (~33 200 USD) in damages to the victim and their families and expulsion out of the country for a decade (Magnå, 2016). The conviction was, in part, based on a psychiatric evaluation that stated that the perpetrator had a severe psychiatric disorder during the time of the murder (Bellman, 2016). Although initially claimed to be 15 years old, the district court determined that the evidence from an age assessment suggested that he was at least 21 years old (Göthlin, 2016). The case was appealed by the prosecutor who wanted a murder conviction (Sköld, 2016).
The court of appeals found that the prosecutor could not prove that the perpetrator had intended to murder Alexandra or prove that the perpetrator knew that it was practically inevitable for her not to die from the attack (Berntsson, 2016). The court of appeals leveled the same conviction, apart from extending the ban on returning to 15 years (Youcefi, 2016a). This time, the claimant counsel appealed the case to the Supreme Court (Ihse, 2016). The Supreme Court decided not to hear the case, and so the conviction and sentence from the court of appeals stands (Bellman, 2016; Nilsson, 2016; P4 Sjuhärad, 2016).
During the period after the lethal knife attack against Alexandra, it was revealed that the perpetrator had documented suicidal thoughts and that several employees explained during interrogations that they had sounded the alarm that he had much more severe problems than they could possibly handle (Gröning, 2016). However, the added personnel that were going to handle this issue after the perpetrator had been moved to the facility in Möndahl had not started yet (Magnå, 2016). In hindsight, this might have been avoided.
How was it reported in Swedish media?
The Swedish media reported extensively on this event within one to one and a half hour.
We know that the police call came at 07:46 (Berntsson, Dahlén Persson and Olausson, 2016). The local newspaper Göteborgs-Posten had an article up at 08:29 (Yousuf, 2016b). The local radio reported on it at 09:08 (P4 Göteborg, 2016).
The national newspapers were even faster in some cases. The tabloid Aftonbladet reported on it at 08:36 (Tronarp and Pettersson, 2016) and the tabloid Expressen had an article up at 08:16 (Wikström and Olsson, 2016). The story had reached the Swedish Public Television news website at 08:39 (Grönholm, Sköld and Petersen, 2016).
Not only did the Swedish media report on the event right after, they also followed the legal and social aftermath of it.
Expressen published at least 21 articles about it (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21).
Aftonbladet posted at least 13 articles (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13).
Göteborg-Posted wrote at least 25 articles about the story (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25).
SVT Nyheterna published at least 12 articles on the subject (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12).
Many more newspapers covered this story as well, but the above analysis is enough to establish the fact that the story was covered right away when it happened that that at least 70 articles where published about it on mainstream Swedish newspaper websites. This killing was not covered up, hidden or downplayed. None of this information was blocked by the Swedish government. It was and still is freely available to anyone in Sweden.
Why did Daily Mail block visitors from Sweden?
The low quality British tabloid Daily Mail wrote about this event as well, but chose sensationalism and bias over careful reporting and fact-checking. They posted the name of the alleged perpetrator, additional accusations and outright errors. This violates ethical standards in Swedish journalism which says that one should be extremely careful with posting the name of a suspect that has not yet been convicted.
Suddenly, the three articles at the Daily Mail could no longer be read by Swedish visitors using a desktop web browser (but works on both mobile, archiving services and the Tor browser). This was because lawyers at the Daily Mail had ordered the newspaper to block access from Sweden. The reason behind this was that they were concerned that their articles could violate Swedish law and get them into substantial legal trouble. This, however, was based on a legal misunderstanding (Ekström, 2016; Perlenberg, 2016). In reality, British newspapers cannot be sued in Swedish court, but the reverse is possible. If a Swedish news story can be read by British citizens, it counts as a British publication and thus under the British legal system.
So the reason why those three articles cannot be read from Sweden was based on legal ignorance among the lawyers at the Daily Mail. It is therefore highly ironic and troubling that this set of a spiraling conspiracy theory that involved immigration, Internet censorship and a nefarious government.
How ignorant Daily Mail lawyers spawned a conspiracy theory
So the Daily Mail blocked Sweden in a mistaken effort to cover their own backsides from alleged legal consequences that was not even possible in principle.
However, in the darker areas of the Internet, this created a conspiracy theory. The Swedish government, the conspiracy theory went, actively blocked the Daily Mail articles from Swedish viewers in order to cover up the event and prevent the Swedish population from “learning the truth” about the consequences of accepting refugees and immigrants. The story spread across 4chan, Reddit and ended up at Breitbart. The Breitbart headline and initial text played on the conspiracy narrative, but later explained that it was a voluntary block done by the Daily Mail.
This, however, was not sufficient. The conspiracy theory that the allegedly nefarious Swedish government had blocked Daily Mail to prevent people “from learning the truth” spread like wildfire, turned into GIFs and now gets dragged out every time Sweden is mentioned in U. S. politics. No wonder, the conspiracy theorists claim, that Swedes are “unaware about what is happening in their own country!”.
The brutal killing of Alexandra was covered extensively by the Swedish media within 30 minutes and over 70 articles were written in total in the largest newspapers and the largest news websites in Sweden. The reason a few Daily Mail articles cannot be read from Swedish desktop computers (but can using mobile or Tor) is that they voluntarily blocked it because their lawyers misunderstood Swedish law. The Swedish government did not block it and Swedish ISPs are against both blocking and government control. There is no conspiracy, but this event spawned a conspiracy theory that is part of the anti-immigration narrative by far-right extremist on social media.
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References and further reading:
Bellman, I. (2016). Inte mord när anställd på HVB-hem dödades med kniv – HD prövar inte fallet. Dagens Juridik. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Berntsson, J., Dahlén Persson, M., and Olausson, J. (2016). Knivman på boende för ensamkommande. Expressen. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Berntsson, J. (2016). Högg ihjäl Alexandra Mezhers – döms inte för mord. Expressen. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Ekström, A. (2016). ”Gigantisk mörkning” tycks vara juridisk försiktighet. Sydsvenskan. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Grönholm, F., Sköld, F. and Petersen, K. (2016). Knivhuggen på HVB-hem. SVT Nyheter. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Gröning, L. (2016). Omständigheterna är värre än vi trodde. Expressen. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Göthlin, E. (2016). Döms till vård för Alexandras död. Expressen. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Hjulström, F. (2016). Hem för vård eller boende (HVB). Swedish Municipalities and Regions. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Ihse, A. (2016). http://www.svt.se/nyheter/lokalt/vast/alexandra-dodades-efter-knivattack-idag-foll-domen-i-hovratten. SVT Nyheter. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
IVO. (2016). Hem för vård eller boende (HVB). Swedish Health and Social Care Inspectorate. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Magnå, J. (2016). Ung man döms för att ha dödat 22-åriga Alexandra Mezher. Aftonbladet. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Nilsson, M. (2016). HD prövar inte knivmordet i Mölndal. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
P4 Göteborg. (2016). 15-åring anhållen efter knivdådet. Sveriges Radio. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
P4 Sjuhärad. (2016). HD tar inte upp Alexandra-fallet. Sveriges Radio. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Perlenberg, C. B. (2016). Daily Mail blev svensk rasist-media. Expressen. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Sköld, J. (2016). Domen efter knivattacken på HVB-hem överklagas. SVT Nyheter. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Svensson, P. (2016). Alexandra jobbade ensam vid attacken. Göteborgs-Posten. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Tronarp, G and Pettersson, L. (2016). Knivbråk på boende – ung kvinna död.. Aftonbladet. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Wikström, M. and Olsson, D. (2016). Tonåring misstänks för mordförsök. Expressen. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Yousuf, F. (2016a). 22-årig kvinna dödad i knivbråk på boende. Göteborgs-Posten. Accessed: 2017-02-24.
Youcefi, F. (2016b). Alexandra dödades efter knivattack – idag föll domen i hovrätten. SVT Nyheter. Accessed: 2017-02-24.