16:09 GMT26 November 2020
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    Of late, the mainstream Nordic media has been painting Russia as a bogeyman. Given the extent of the anti-Russian paranoia across Scandinavia, it is hardly surprising that an unidentified hacking attempt against a NATO country was peddled as a "Russian indoctrination campaign" by the Swedish media.

    Swedish armoured personnel carriers are seen in Visby harbour, island of Gotland, Sweden September 14, 2016. Picture taken September 14, 2016.
    © REUTERS / TT News Agency/ Soren Andersson
    In February, the Swedish TV-channel TV4 claimed Russia was waging an "advocacy campaign" against Sweden. The TV4 report entitled "Russian interest to disrupt even in Sweden" claimed that Russia was undertaking clandestine activities aimed at splitting the Swedish society and disrupting the democratic process. According to the program, which cited a "report" by the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, this was being achieved though the dissemination of false information and intelligence efforts on the web, Swedish news outlet Fria Tider reported.

    The program featured a man in his twenties named Sebastian Åsberg, who claimed that for two consecutive years Russia had been engaged in a "coordinated advocacy campaign" and was spreading "misinformation and propaganda" in Sweden. Åsberg was presented as a researcher at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI). However, a subsequent review by the citizen's initiative Granskning Sverige ("Review Sweden") indicated that the UI had no employees of this name.

    "He does not have a position with us right now, but used to be an intern with us," UI communications officer Astrid Benkö told Granskning Sverige.

    Instead, Sebastian Åsberg's LinkedIn profile showed that he is working as a program officer with the Swedish Migration Board.

    Additionally, the very research that TV4 referred to was found to be non-existent.

    "Yes, it is completely wrong. UI doesn't make such reports. I do not know why the newspapers claimed it existed. There are no such collective reports from UI," UI researcher Lena Jonsson told Review Sweden.

    Additionally, TV4 claimed Russian agents to be charting Swedish politicians by contacting their children on social media, venturing that a seemingly innocent friend request on Facebook could actually be "part of Russia's intelligence efforts" to map out politician families and opinions.

    TV4 substantiated this idea through an interview with David Lindahl, an IT and security expert at the Swedish Defense Research Agency (FOI), who said that valuable data, such as passwords can be obtained after making friends with the children.

    However, the very same David Lindahl later acknowledged to Review Sweden that Russia, to his knowledge, never made any hacking attempts as described by TV4. Instead, he outlined a similar hacking attempt, which did not happen in Sweden, but in a NATO country. Also, there was no indication that Russia was behind it.

    "This was omitted by TV4," David Lindahl told Granskning Sverige.

    Review Sweden is a citizen journalism initiative exposing fake news and lies. Its activists call opinion makers, journalists, and politicians to ask them "uncomfortable" questions mainstream media journalists avoid at all cost.

    Previously, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven repeatedly voiced concerns that Russia was likely to meddle in the 2018 national election, urging a cross-party collaboration to counter Russia's coming attacks, the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter reported.

    This was met with a harsh response from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

    "I read yesterday that the Swedish prime minister is becoming nervous that they also have elections very soon and that Russia would 100 percent be involved in them. Childish, frankly speaking. You either put some facts on the table or you try to avoid any statements which embarrass you," Lavrov told the magazine The National Interest.


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