They trick themselves to interviews under false identities. The purpose: spreading xenophobia and hatred towards politicians, opinion makers, journalists and regular citizens. Today newspaper Eskilstuna-Kuriren goes behind the scenes at Granskning Sverige (Auditing Sweden) - one of the country’s leading centres for xenophobic propaganda.
– Hi, my name is Janne.
– I am reading this article ”Security guard attacked at central Fröslunda”. Why don’t you write the truth? According to the police rapport it was foreigners.
– But that’s got nothing to do with it?
– It has…It has got something to do with it. It’s important people get to find out who they are.
When you listen to the recording later you can almost hear what the editor in chief of Eskilstuna-Kuriren Eva Burman is thinking at this point: Sigh! Not another trolling call.
It is an accurate observation. This is a trolling call. One of many near daily calls to news desks all over Sweden by net trolls with fake identities, that is recorded, re-edited and published on You Tube in a heavily edited version.
At the same time the editor in chief is answering her phone other calls are placed to other journalist at the paper.
The callers are very persistent. One call a minute from Skype-numbers with anonymous caller ID until someone picks up. No messages are left on the answering machines. After three or four tries they change to another number, as if someone had instructed them to beforehand.
Eventually someone picks up and this time Eva Burman answers.
– The truth has to get out there, Janne shouts and sounds out of breath.
– But what is the truth? Eva Burman asks.
– You can tell what the truth is. Just open your door and the truth is there. We have the Moroccan street children who has been here and lived it up and they are no form of identification and then they are released and…
A few days previously Eskilstuna-Kuriren have published an article about a security guard who was attacked by a group of youths at a square in Fröslunda, central Eskilstuna.
The guard was hit in the face and a kicked in the side before the masked youths ran away from the scene.
Several of the attackers may well have had an immigration background, as the attack took place in one of Eskilstuna’s most immigration-dense parts of the city. But Moroccan street children it was not.
The police was certain it was a local youth gang. When the first patrols arrived the troublemakers had left the scene.
Strictly speaking it does not actually matter for Janne. He wants to argue and record a few lines. Not ”ask a few questions”, as he pretended at the start.
Eventually, Eva Burman gets annoyed by the racist undertones that penetrates his questions and raises her voice: ”That is called racism”, she says.
Janne snaps back.
– Have you opened your heart as Fredrik Reinfeldt (Sweden’s former Prime Minister) said? Are you housing a family of refugees?
After the conversation he edits a three minute version of the 20 minutes long telephone call and publish it on his You Tube channel with the heading ”Editor in chief calls citizen racist”. It blends seamlessly with the other 60 or so recordings he has published previously. They have titles such as ”10 minutes massive row with arrogant bitch at SVT” and ”Media covers up that a Social Democratic politician want to murder using a Kalashnikov”.
It is not long until new calls are being made to the news desk. And many of them who call after having listened to Janne’s trolling clip are openly hostile. Others are satisfied by saying how much they hate journalists, politicians and immigrants. Their anger have been triggered by the clip with the newspapers editor which now spreads like wildfire via the hate sites.
When Eskilstuna-Kuriren’s editors totalled up the number of hostile situations that had occurred at the paper during 2016, it ended up on around 100 phone calls placed to the news desk that were of the same nature that the one Janne and his followers made.
That is the everyday situation at an ordinary Swedish local paper’s news desk. The telephone terror against Eskilstuna-Kuriren had already been going on for a few weeks before Janne called and trolled, but the phenomena is not new and the paper is not alone in being victim of such attacks.
The trolling factory that is spreading Janne’s recordings are called Granskning Sverige and is one of the country’s most well organised centre for right wing xenophobic propaganda and obvious racial hatred. It is Granskning Sverige this article will be about.
But first, let us take a look at another case, which shows what these trolling calls means for those who have built the propaganda centre.
Autumn 2015 Dagens Nyheter’s reporter Niklas Orrenius sat in a hotel room in Barcelona and wondered what he was doing there.
– We sat there with the children and thought: “How could it end up like this?”
It felt very Kafka-esque and like a mob-movie.
It was DN’s own security department that had recommended the Orrenius family to go abroad until the storm around them had settled. The threat was tangible. It looked like this:
A well-known right wing extremist had recently photographed himself in front of the sign with the family’s name in their communal staircase, put it online and promised to return.
During night-time death threats to the family were called in.
The children’s telephone numbers were published in the comments on hate sites that encouraged revenge-attacks on the DN-reporter.
All of this because Niklas Orrenius had asked the woman behind the pseudonym Julia Caesar- a xenophobic blogger- for an interview. Something that triggered a hate storm with xenophobic undertones against Niklas Orrenius in social media.
A few days after the visit Julia Caesar wrote a long blog post about how the DN-reporter and a photographer had stalked her and terrorised her. She describes it as if they had tried to push their way into her house when in fact they knocked on the summerhouse’s small kitchen window to ask for an interview.
When I meet Niklas Orrenius a year and a half after the hate storm he is still uneasy about what happened autumn 2015. He has just stepped off a night train from Malmö to get to his place of work in Stockholm and places his sailor sack on the floor next to one of the cafe tables at the Centralstation.
– I visited her twice. Once before the elections 2014 and a second time about a year later, autumn 2015. But it was not more than that and nothing I worked with continuously. She was on the phone and did not have time for us that second time, so I waited outside. Then I wrote a note asking her to contact me, waived through the window and went home, Niklas Orrenius says.
There was nothing extraordinary about either of the visits, he says. Nothing more exceptional than knocking on the door of someone you would like to talk to.
– I remember that she had cut flower stems in her garden that day. The secateurs were left outside the house. I put them on top of the note so it wouldn’t blow away. Then I went back to the mainland.
The telephone terror against the Orrenius family begun a few days later, when Julia Caesar had published her own blog post about the second visit. The calls had been going on for sometime already by the time Granskning Sverige called.
– I always try to talk to those who call, even those who just want to threat and hate. When Granskning Sverige called I was quite shaky after several calls. I recognised that smooth voice and thought: “Damn! Not him as well!”. But I still wanted to be honest so I answered his questions, Niklas Orrenius says.
During the 11 minutes long clip that is later published online the caller claims that everything Julia Caesar says in her blog is true and that Niklas Orrenius lies. He is described as a dishonest reporter, hired by left wing extremist AFA (Anti-Fascist Action) to quieten the blogger. The smooth voice over in the clip says that Niklas Orrenius has “used journalism for the purpose of whitewashing and protect violent communist groups”.
The telephone terror that is taking place while the interview is being recorded is according to Granskning Sverige made up by Niklas Orrenius to make himself out as a martyr. Because that is how left wing extremist usually do, informs the voice over at the end of the clip.
The accusations are alternated with short clips from the telephone conversation, illustrating the voice over’s accusations against the journalist. The insults and accusations are added afterwards and Niklas Orrenius never gets a chance to argue them. He had not even heard them when he answered the questions.
– It happens still that people use their recordings as a mean to attack me. “Here you admit yourself that you’re a dishonest journalist”. Something like that. I haven’t even had the energy to listen to that call myself. I don't have the energy now, he says.
What makes it so difficult to listen to?
In hindsight I remember that week with all the calls home and to the family as the worst week in my life. I don't want to go back there even in my memory. I have always had openness as a protection against hatred and lived after the principal: “There are no secrets with me”. That is why I have often been welcoming when Avpixlat (a xenophobic site) and such sites have called. But now the haters have multiplied and it hardly makes any difference at all answering them and I guess that is where Granskning Sverige comes in.
Can you be as open today?
– No. These people just want to hurt me. Previously I could take those conversations. I always thought I am good at reaching out to different kinds of people and bring them closer together. That is what I like to achieve when I write. But now a day it’s more of a sense of standing on different ice floats and shout at each other from a distance. I feel like I am stood there with a boat hook trying to pull another ice float closer to me in order to say something.
They want to see me suffer.
Many other opinion makers and journalists that Eskilstuna-Kuriren speaks to while writing this article say roughly the same thing when we contact them: The recorded trolling calls are more awkward than regular hate calls. They remain on the web, are linked to and spread, generating more threatening calls like a magnet attracting iron shavings.
The phone calls take time and energy. As a result it may lead to that one as a journalist start to avoid certain subjects. The subject of immigration especially, which attracts extra much hatred.
A well-known editorial writer on one of Sweden’s biggest newspaper consortiums says he can not even be bothered to talk about the trolling because it attracts so many new calls. He does not have the energy to comment on or even listen to what Granskning Sverige adds to their channels, he writes in an text message: “My limit goes at listening to the rubbish. There are enough things I need to read about myself I can avoid listen as well. “
Niklas Orrenius gazes over the crowds of people at the Centralstation when I say that several colleagues do not want to be cited with names when they tell me what has happened after the calls they received from Granskning Sverige.
– I think that limitation of free speech and openness is one of nationalism’s greatest successes, that we have become worried about even continuing to discuss these subjects with each other, he says before we part.
There is no point in knocking on the door and ask for an interview for those who would like to know how Granskning Sverige is organised. Therefore Eskilstuna-Kuriren creates a few completely anonymous profiles on different social media platforms when it is time to knock on the digital door to the troll factory. My own net-troll gets an anonymous profile picture where you can vaguely make out a fight dog and all external attributes a keyboard crusader needs:
Education: School of hard knocks
The name is not picked at random. Granskning Sverige already has several co-workers called that. Therefore Johan will blend in well.
I also make a list of ethical rules for the Johan-account. He can only like and share existing posts or general news articles. He is not to start debating, write his own posts of hatred or actively contribute to the spreading of threatening post. He must always remain a passive on-looker in the digital world.
To give him a plausible façade I let him join different closed facebook-groups such as “Soldiers of Odin”, “Crime scene Eskilstuna without political correctness”, “We who hate immigrants”.
He likes articles that are about Vladimir Putin, Swedish Democrats and crimes in Swedish high rise projects. Then he sends friend requests to everyone facebook recommends and accepts all requests that comes in return.
After that Johan is ready to apply for a job in the troll factory. They are constantly looking for new callers on their website. Those who get more than three thousand clicks on their clip is offered one thousand Swedish kronor in payment and I start by sending an email to an administrator called Erik to ask how it works.
“You get 1000SEK from another one of our listeners if you get a clip published by us”, is the answer.
“Who is the best to call to get a flying start? Anyone in particular you’d like to get to that I should call?”
“Would you like to call the Church of Sweden and ask about their gay positivism? Jesus has said that men should not lie with men, but now the Church is wedding homosexuals and even has homosexual couple within the priesthood. Perhaps that could be something?
The email exchange and choice of words quickly gives a clear idea of which political agenda Granskning Sverige has. The administrator called Erik has more suggestions:
“You could call a major newspaper /…/ and ask if there is no news value in all the thousands of emails made public about Hillary’s weapon smuggling, coup making, corruption within the Clinton Foundation, connections to Rothschilds and Soros etc. etc. You could call and ask /…/ if they are going to publicise that for example Hillary’s co-worker appears to have headed up a paedophile ring amongst those nearest to Hillary”, answers Erik.
It is autumn 2016 and the suggestions he makes mirrors the biggest fake news spreading in social media during the same period.
Outside the newspaper’s office it has clouded over while we email. It is lunchtime, Tuesday the 8th of November Swedish time and thus only one more working day before Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the American presidential election.
“Here’s one you can call”, Erik writes and sends a link to Dagens Nyheter’s USA-correspondent Martin Gelin who has recently written about the concern for new hacker attacks during the elections’ final stages. “Why is Trump’s suspicions about rigged votes from the former Nixon aide Clinton conspiracy theories, while Hillary’s information (against Assange’s information) that the DNC leak was a Russian attack, credible?”.
I delay responding. Fifteen minutes later Erik emails again. “If you call the halfwit at DN it would be perfect if you could get some words from the university professor about whether the election can be rigged (without help from Russia).”
I excuse myself blaming work commitments. Two days later when Trump has won the US election, I email a question: “Is the professor that talks about rigged elections still relevant now when Trump won?”
Erik does not seem to think it is such hurry any longer. He is more interested in the island of Gotland where a woman in a wheel chair has reported a rape a month earlier. He is foremost annoyed with the political editor of Gotland’s Folkblad, Erik Fransson. The reason: Fransson has written that all those demonstrators currently demonstrating against the rape on the streets of Visby ought to distance themselves from all that all New-Nazis who are currently calling for the citizens of Gotland to take the law in their own hands.
The Prosecutor in the rape case has recently left the investigation after a threatening visit to their house. The Vicar of Visby was threatened when he urged to anti-racism. The police have sent a task-force to the island to enable the crime investigators to dare carry on working.
I skim through Fransson’s editorial. If you do not clearly take a stance against the xenophobic forces that wants to initiate a vigilante on the island, it might not be so strange that others call you a racist, he argues. Sounds reasonable, I think and answer the trolling factory I will not have time to call any Gotlanders right now.
Then I call Fransson anyway, from my regular work number and present myself with my real name.
It is a productive chat. The trolling has already begun and shows so clearly that the trolling factory Granskning Sweden is part of a wider network.
– Yes, well, I made the mistake of giving them the opportunity of answering their questions and it feels stupid with hindsight, Fransson says when I ask if he has received any strange phone calls after the editorial was published.
He has just received a call from the online magazine Fria Tider. The site mainly writes articles about immigrants and crime, but now they consider Fransson’s editorial piece to slander the vigilantes of Gotland’s main figure. Even though she is not mentioned by name in the text.
I tried to steer the conversation over to email after a while but I couldn't resist completely.
It is when he forwards me the emails Fria Tider sent after the telephone conversation that the connection between the xenophobic site and Granskning Sverige becomes clear.
Fria Tider ask if the editorial is about the woman who usually speak on behalf of the Gotlandic vigilantes and gets the answer: “Then you misunderstood me during the telephone conversation”. Fransson points out that his text is speaking of extremism in general terms.
Fria Tider sends the same question several times with small variations: “Is there a personal vendetta (against the spokes woman of the vigilantes)?”
Fransson replies: “Both you and I can agree that there exists extremists who with violence would like to change society. I don't need to list examples where both right- and left wing extremists commit violent crimes. But as I wrote: none of this do I accuse the vigilantes of Gotland of.”
And so it continues for a while.
There is really nothing strange with the email-conversation as such, apart from the fact it is a carbon copy of the interview questions just sent to my fake profile Johan from Granskning Sverige. They want to me to take over the trolling from where Fria Tider left off.
It is blatantly obvious since the trolling factory writes scripts for their hired troll callers. When Johan gets the task to call Gotlands Folkblad the script also contains follow up questions to expected answers.
A section of the script is readable on the faxes that I received.
All questions stems from the same question that Fria Tider just asked: “Is this a statement about a specific person?”
You do not need to be prone to conspiracy theories to see the connection between Fria Tider och Granskning Sverige. Both sites has got their internet domains registered by the same company – the Estonian limited company FT News Group OU at Narva Road in Tallin. It is the company that owns Fria Tider together with the founder of the news site Widar Nord who is the registered contact person for Granskning Sverige with Internetstiftelsen i Sverige (IIS), an organisation that regulates Swedish domains.
Fria Tider and Granskning Sverige have several common grounds. Xenophobia and Islamophobia has permeated many of the online magazine’s news since the start in 2009. In recent years both sites has chosen to promote debaters that are pro-Russian after the Crimean occupation and the Russian-supported civil war in Ukraine. In the same way they were positive to Donald Trump and clearly negative to Hillary Clinton in the autumn’s presidential election.
At the Swedish political scene the online magazine was considered siding most with the Swedish Democrats at the start in 2009. After the general elections in 2014 they position themselves closer to a small group of people from the Swedish Democrats youth organisation SDU, who later were thrown out of the Swedish Democrats because they were considered too radical.
But there is also a clear difference between the online magazine Fria Tider and the trolling factory Granskning Sverige. While the online magazine sticks to a more polish surface and employ tactics that can at best be confused with real journalism, the trolling factory follows no ethical guidelines at all.
Instructions to the hired callers are clear: They are to use fake identities, lie about the purpose of the call and re-edit the recording so it becomes entertaining instead of fair.
Many of those who are called by Granskning Sverige have no idea that they have been interviewed until they are exposed online.
Instructions on how to trick someone into giving such an interview is the first thing that meets our own fake profile Johan when he returns from his Gotlandic mission. That is when he is invited into the trolling factory’s secret newsroom.
To get access to the trolling factory turned out not being more difficult than knocking on a door in the end. The weekend after the American presidential election I let the fake profile Johan write a new email to the administrator Erik at Granskning Sverige: “Got some good clips now. Can I send them when I get back from a work trip, gone for two weeks, how do you want the files?”
More is not needed and Johan obviously have no files to send because he never trolled anyone. The answer is still lightening fast: “The money will be paid into the account you request. Your clip needs to reach 3000 before any money is paid out.”
Then follows an email with a log in to Granskning Sverige’s secret research portal. Its hidden on an anonymous server with no clear connection to the FT-group’s databases and cannot be discovered without the password. As a regular Internet user you will be met by a blank wall should you type in the address to the secret part of the site.
It is in there where the trolling calls are planned and edited before they are published in the open channels for anyone to listen to. Johan has just got access to a channel to upload his clips to and when he calls he should present himself as “Evert Nilsson”- all according to instructions that greets him at log in.
The instructions can be presented in three points:
Say that you are a private person when you call someone.
Buy a pay-as-you-go card in a newsagent’s. Do not give your real name in communication with us in Granskning Sverige as we will not take responsibility for keeping your identity a secret.
Media is entertainment. The editor must make the clips entertaining. Edit so that the clips are dramatic.
In front of me on the screen are now two large folders. One of them contains half-finished ideas for a reportage that anyone can start working on. Some of them has scripts already written, just like the Gotland mission had. Amongst the ideas can be noted:
Call a choir leader and question why he want to hire the opera singer Marlena Ernman for a performance and why there need to be children of colour in the choir.
A listener has secretly recorded their children’s kindergarten teacher when she discusses gender issues with children: “Listen and be horrified! We need to make a program of this.”
Are non-Muslims worth less than Muslims?
In the folder with half-finished articles other callers discuss how to edit the sound bites that has already been recorded. The files do not need to have been considered for the same article from the start but many articles seem to be created with the cut and paste method.
On the visible part of the website Granskning Sverige has published around 600 sound clips during three years where journalist and regular people alike has been trolled. The sheer number makes it one of Sweden’s leading trolling factories.
Most recordings already published appear to follow the instruction manual word by word. The caller pretends to be a regular newspaper reader who would like to ask some questions. If the counterpart wonders why the call is coming from an anonymous number the answer is always vague. The background noises, that are palpable in many of the calls, indicate that the interviews are cut severely just like the recordings with Eva Burman and Niklas Orrenius.
The method is easy to see through: the troll is always protected by the anonymity- the victim should be exposed with name as well as picture and is always presented in as bad light as possible.
I want to turn those roles around and let one of the anonymous callers answer for method. And it should be one of the real organisers behind the trolling factory who answers, not a hired caller.
That is why I contact Erik, who recently let my fake profile into the trolling factory, and tell him who I really am. I now use my real name, say that I am a journalist and ask if I can make an interview on the behalf of the Eskilstuna-Kuriren.
I obviously start with asking why he always hides behind an anonymous façade and do not dare to stand up for his opinions. Erik answers with a counter question.
– Have you heard about Gunther Wallraff? Erik asks rhetorically when we meet over the phone.
– Yes, I answer truthfully.
– Did he say beforehand who he was and what the purpose of his interviews was?
– No, and that is called Wallraff-journalism. But it is a method to be used with caution, I say.
That Erik knows about Gunter Wallraff is not so strange. I am more surprised that he wants to compare himself to an old lefty icon.
The German journalist Gunter Wallraff reached star status in the 60’s when he dressed himself up as an industrial worker in order to expose how the West German coal- and steel industry made foreign guest workers work under almost slave-like conditions. The purpose of the journalistic method he has given his name to is to get in contact with whoever you would like to investigate without revealing your true identity. Just like I did at the beginning of this article.
But the last step of the journalistic method is always that you step forward, present yourself who you really are and explain that I now would like to do a regular interview with you.
Read the last sentence again, because it is important. Before anything is published, the Wallraffing journalist must give the counter party a chance to explain themselves.
It is a about a basic professional ethical code of conduct for all journalists, to give the counter party a chance to comment on your findings in the finished article before it goes to print.
But that turns out not being as important in Erik’s world. The most important thing for him to is to get hold of a recorded voice:
– I can tell you that everyone who claims to be expert on international politics, they hang up immediately when they hear that it’s me calling. I don't get any interviews, no interviews, when I introduce myself.
He mentions the current and former minister of defence, some well-known scientist and a columnist for the tabloid Aftonbladet amongst those who has not wanted to discuss their view on politics with him.
Erik is one of the four main administrators of Granskning Sverige. He often blogs about his view of the world on the site. In one of his latest posts he praised Nazi-Germany, Russia and the religious dictatorship of Iran to be so closely knit. That is how his ideal society looks like. There should be one people and one community.
So who is he for real? He does not want to say. But according to the anti-racist foundation Expo’s research department it is almost without doubt a 35-year old man from a smaller town in Central Sweden with ties to the Nordic Resistance that hides himself behind the signature of Erik at Granskning Sverige.
Expo states that they with certainty can connect the 35-year old to a number of facebook-profiles and user accounts on white supremacy-sites. The last remaining connection, that which links facebook-profiles with the username Erik in the secret part of the trolling factory, is an assumption by Expo. Eskilstuna-Kuriren has taken part of Expo’s unpublished research and can confirm that this person is at least using the same email address as Erik shares with his sympathisers in the secret research portal.
Erik does not want to comment on this information at all when I bring it up during our telephone conversation.
– I don't answer that question because it concerns my identity, he says.
And the same dishonesty is necessary amongst the callers, you mean?
– What do you mean is dishonest?
You say that you a private person when you call people. You do not say that this is an interview, that the call is being recorded and will then be edited and published on the site Granskning Sverige?
– I go back to Wallraffing then. Why do you use the method? It is to find things out you normally wouldn't.
But you never take that second contact and offer people a chance to comment on what you have found?
– Well. You get a No so many times you stop doing it. But I have done it so many times. But I have not done it every time, because you can not be bothered when you know you will get a No.
Take for a example the Niklas Orrenius-interview published on your site. It is completely dishonest on Granskning Sverige’s part. Is it okay to do that?
– I don't know which interview you are referring to and if it’s not me who made it I can’t comment.
Is Granskning Sverige part of Fria Tider?
– No, it’s not.
Why are you using their server?
– Because Widar Nord (founder of Fria Tider), is someone that I, without knowing him, trust. I would have preferred if everything we publish ends up at Fria Tider, but it doesn't. Had we been part of Fria Tider they would have published much more of our material.
You often talk about the Nordic Resistance. Are you a member?
– No. Their idea of what would constitute a nation’s identity is far too shallow. For them it’s just the race. That’s too shallow for me. But I don't say it’s evil. They don't eat kids just because they talk about race.
It is first when I read through the interview afterwards that it strikes me how odd that last answer must sound outside the anonymous trolling accounts world, where we all act under our own name and have to dare to stand up for what we say to others.
But in the closed filter bubble of the trolling factory the answer sounds ordinary. I have been in that bubble for three months when I log out from the Johan-account for the very last time.