Professor: Social media makes increasing number of Swedes expect a disaster despite a booming economy
- Donald Trump, Brexit, and the far-right nationalist Sweden Democrats attracting 25% of the electorate â" professor Per Ãdling's data-based predictions have been eerily accurate.
- Now, he concludes that no arguments seem to be able to have any effect on a growing number of Swedes who have got it into their heads that the country is doing really poorly.
- "Their dark view of the future is impairing their quality of life considerably,â Ãdling says in an interview ahead of Swedenâs general election next week.
"I was consoling myself by eating eight kilos when Donald Trump won, perhaps t he least known Trump effect. And I have a hard time seeing an end to unthinkable things continuing to happen," says Per Ãdling, professor of telecommunications at the University of Lund.
The thing that he and his colleagues in the scientific community are tearing their hair over is that as many as one Swede in ten seems to live in a mass psychosis with a very real fear that Sweden is facing a grim future.
He is referring to, amongst other things, surveys from Inizio commissioned by the Swedish daily Aftonbladet, and from the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, which show that not only Sweden Democrat supporters believe in a dark future, but also an increasingly large part of the rest of the population.
I'd believed in 20 percent, but it being every second Swede was something that made me very surprised.
He argues that the surveys confirm a tension in the political system, where increasingly large groups of people have ceased believing n the future, and that the explanation of the quick increase in support for the Sweden Democrats in opinion polls could be down to the voters being unable to find any other suitable party to vote for. Today's situation with more than 50 per cent not believing in the future also means that there are 50 per cent of potential swing voters.
- Professor Per Ãdling, who predicted rise of ultra-nationalism, is worried about Sweden's upcoming election.
Per Ãdling says that the scientists are quite sure that one reason strongly contributing to the dark view of the future is that social media during the last 10 years have gone from being platforms for community, where you spend time with friends and laugh, to also becoming platforms for groups with dubious opinions.
In order to get an easier answer to what is going on within that kind of groups, he is monitoring the Facebook group StÃ¥ upp fÃ¶r Sverige, "Stand Up for Sweden", with more than 160,000 members. He recommends others to follow his example:
"Their dark view of the future is impairing their quality of life considerably. So even if no arguments seem to have any effect, we could at least choose to have compassion with them."
The line of reasoning also goes that if these people are being left to their own devices, they will only sink deeper into their dark world.
"We need to dare to show consideration for and understanding of people who have become digital horror images of themselves."
Per Ãdling also claims that the groups are so homogenous that dissent is immediately punished by being temporarily blocked, but still, he cannot refrain from joking about such people.
"They often se em to have broken keyboards, as so many of their messages only consist of capital letters."
As for the question whether he believes that there will be less right-wing populism in society because of the growing climate threat, he gives the following answer:
"When I was a child, there was talk about that there could be climate changes in 200 years, and now, we're stuck with brown lawns and are open to new facts. But, in their world, nothing has changed."
The situation is hardly made any easier by a phenomenon called "citizen journalists," where powerful forces such as Russia are using social media and fake news to weaken the Western democracies, according to Per Ãdling.
"There are many interested parties wanting this."
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It is not only a matter of about 10 per cent of the population seemingly suffering from mass psychosis, but Per Ãdling estimates that groups such as "Stand Up for Sweden," where about 2 percent of the voters are included, in full earnest believe that the country will be invaded by Muslims, that Sharia law will rule the country, and that crime has increased tenfold.
The companies want people to become upset and stay longer at their platforms as it increases the value of ad sales, it increases the companies' stock market value.
Since people, in addition, have a tendency believing things that confirm their prejudice, algorithms riding on strong emotions pave the way for a "perfect storm," Per Ãdling says.
When he was trying to find out why so many Swedes voted for the Sweden Democrats in the 2014 election to the Riksdag â" 12.86 percent â" the scientists fed their computers with plenty of terms, such as concern for the labour market, and the view of our lifestyle. Then, the terms were multiplied by ignorance.
"We as humans aren't quite made for changes, and therefore, they're nothing we like. If you don't know why changes are taking place, you become extra worried and vote in all kinds of directions. But if you understand why the change is taking place â" regardless of whether you think that the change sucks or not â" we know that it doesn't affect your political behaviour in the same way."
The model proved itself incredibly accurate.
"Indeed, the struggle was between the fascist Donald Trump and the socialist Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump won."
The work with the model also showed that a Brexit was perhaps not as unlikely after all, since, amongst other things, the countryside had not been able to take part in harvesting the fruits of the quick advance of globalisation, digitalisation, and the financial industr y.
It also showed that the Sweden Democrats will reach 24-26 percent of the electorate, and, in the run-up to the general election in Sweden on September 9th, much is indicating that the forecast will come true.
He says how he is often being contacted by people claiming that the Sweden Democrats are the salvation of the country, and has realised that it is not worth the effort presenting evidence to the contrary.
During my many, many meetings, I haven't be able to convince a single individual, but everything is just a conspiracy to them.
He himself grew up in the Northern Swedish town of ÃrnskÃ¶ldsvik, in a family of farmers, where his mother came from Finland.
He points out that it is mainly people outside of the urban areas that have lost their faith in the future, and who seem to close their eyes to the fact that digitalisation has created a comfortable life for most people.
"Town and country have act ually never been more alike when it comes to the distribution of income and welfare, and access to services."
Following the accurate model in 2014, his main focus lies on investigating how to turn the negative faith in the future.
He also worries that even though there are already 70 million refugees on the move worldwide today, the number will rise tenfold as climate changes really start to take off, and will contribute even further to a negative view of the future.
"There are parties that are going to the polls on threats and worries as they have realised that a large part of the electorate has another worldview than the usual nowadays."
More than anything else, he raises questions as to what kind of Sweden his children will be growing up in.
"I often meet the author and psychologist Hedi Fried, who survived the concentration camps of World War II. She feels that terror has returned."
This article has been tran slated from the original published in Swedish by Veckans AffÃ¤rer.
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