Mina Dennert the Swedish journalist fighting against online hate with #jagärhär, “Iamhere”

To fight fake news and hate comments, racism and homophobia: this is the aim of #jagärhär (Iamhere), the group created by Swedish journalist Mina Dennert . Read the interview.

Leggi qui la traduzione in italiano

Facebook grows thanks to viral comments, but most of them are negative and hateful. Hiding behind a keyboard people feel free to express their anger and hate but this has to change. Mina Dennert knows this and she tried to make an online safe space for democracy when she started a private group, #jagärhär (“Iamhere”), in 2016 on Facebook. Her team has been growing since then, counting now more than 100 thousands hundred users. Since then, other groups are born in different countries under the same name (Iamhere).

What is the purpose of the group? Whenever a hate comment is made or a fake news is spread jagarhar users intervene to comment positively or helping a person under attack. They try to spread real news by quoting facts instead of lies, as it happens with fake news. Some people angered by the initiative threatened Mina Dennert, but she doesn’t want to stop and her will to make a more democratic and inclusive society is stronger than ever.

We interviewed this incredible journalist to find out more about the ideas behindjagärhär .

Interview realized in collaboration with I. Capitanio – photo ©Jonatan Fernström

Who is Mina Dennert? How would you introduce yourself?

«This is how I introduce myself when I give lectures: Mina Dennert is a Swedish writer, journalist and the founder of the #iamhere network, which has inspired far over a hundred thousand people from all over the world to take up the fight for a democratic and inclusive society».

You won “Anna Lindh Prize” in 2017 four your democratic ideals. What did it mean for you?

«Winning the Anna Lindh prize was a great honor. Anna Lindh was a competent and well-liked politician who was brutally murdered. Throughout the trial, the prosecutor tried to obtain information about the motive, why he had murdered Anna Lindh and speculated whether there was anything in her policy that the murderer disliked. He did not answer during the trial. In fact, only once after 10 years in prison, he talked to the media and spoke rather openly about not being politically aware at all. He just knew she was a politician and he hated politicians and blamed all his personal failures on politicians.

This is not the first time in history that such a thing happens unfortunately and it is also why the work we do is so important. Supporting politicians and journalists and resisting all the negativity and disinformation that circulates towards these professions is to stand up for our democratic and open society. Winning a prize in her name was a confirmation that others understood what I want to accomplish with my work».

How is born the idea of creating the group #jagärhär? Has there been a significant episode that led to it’s creation? What is the purpose of the group you founded?

«In Sweden, fake news and online hat is a very big problem. People who are not journalists start pages and groups where they claim to write news but instead they spread propaganda in order to spread mistrust. It is very difficult for people to see the difference between this and actual journalism.

They spread disinformation, but they also attack journalists, politicians, opinion-formers, especially if they are women or non-European descent, they get harassed on social media, Facebook and Twitter, in order to scare them and make them silent. And it works; politicians quit their jobs. Journalists dare not review and report on certain issues. And opinion formers self-censor themselves. This is a major democratic problem and a matter of freedom of speech.

I had ignored and blocked people who spread racism and misogynous messages on social media. But in the spring of 2016 I saw a change in my flow. It was no longer “the usual suspects” that I almost expected this hatred from, instead it was entirely new groups. People that I knew were friendly and “good people”. They had read all this disinformation and were frightened by it. So I started looking up the pages they shared their horrible racial and completely false claims and memes from and found this whole web of hundreds of hate groups and hateful fake news sites.

So I started talking to those who had been frightened and their friends, gave them other links to real statistics and facts. And I also posted my comments in the hate-groups. But I was always all alone with thousands of angry people who attacked me. So I simply asked some of my friends if they wanted to help. I needed more people to get involved and talk to people who had been frightened by all the distrust and show that it is possible to have different political views but still be able to talk to each other about important political issues online. So I started the group on Facebook which was secret at first, with only 20 members. I remember posting: “Please add your friends so that we will become at least 50 people in the group“. Today we are well over 100,000 people worldwide».

Do you think there is a hope for a change, or on the contrary you think that you are just preventing Internet to sink into hate?

«I’m still positive. We must never give up fighting for democracy and human rights. But we need to continue to make demands on politicians to prioritize this work for change. Make demands on the police and prosecutors so that they indict people who make these illegal acts. It’s important that we distinguish between hatred and opinion. Unlawful threats, slander, hate speech against people is all illegal.

Of course, people should be able to have different opinions on immigration and a variety of issues, this is important for a healthy debate. But we have to be able to discuss it without the risk of being threatened. And, not least, the big social media giants must be held responsible. They are publishers and must take responsibility for what is published on their platforms».

We see that in Italy negative and racist comments spreading hate are increasing. Politicians as well spread these comments. Do you think that acting on the Internet and arresting this process can influence society and not only the Internet?

«Absolutely, our children understand this and that gives hope for the future. They make no difference between online and IRL as we adults do. It is one and the same world. What happens on social media has a huge impact on our lives and on the political climate. Just look at Cambridge Analytica. What happens on social media is changing our world. This is also why we have the opportunity to change by being involved and being part of the solution ourselves.

Members in the groups tell us that they have become much more politically aware and much better at arguing since they started to get involved. They also say that they have become much more courageous and speak their mind even on the bus and at work as well. Almost once a week, someone thanks us for our work, journalists and opinion formers who have been about to give up but endures little bit longer and gets courage because of our support».

After you started your group you received some death threats, your father also received some bullets. You became also the target of hating trolls that published your private data. How did you feel about the threats? Are you afraid of or are you encouraged to follow your purpose?

«I was prepared to be hated and threatened. With my background, I am a woman and born in the Middle East and am also a journalist so everything about me is all time favorite to hate. And add to this that my work has really stopped their progress and made it harder for them to spread the hate and the disinformation. I am somewhat scared and careful all the time. We have changed our entire life, how we think about safety. But I sometimes think I’m ready to die. It sounds a little silly. But that’s how it feels. If we were to give in to these threats, it would be the end of the open society as we know it».

How do you handle your many users on #jagärhär? Do you give direction of what to write or you just signal the “hate post” so they can comment?

«What we do is that we distinguish between hatred and opinion. First, we never go into any private pages or closed groups, we work in the open comment fields. We advise each other on the field of comments where there are unlawful threats, hate speech against people and other things that are illegal. In order for our democracy to function we must have access to true facts and we must be able to discuss political questions. So that’s what we’re trying to do. We try to show that it is possible to have a factual discussion on social media.

We have a number of advice on how to discuss with someone you do not agree with; to always make the best interpretation of what others say, to stick to the factual issue, stay away from name-calling eg».

In occasion of Safer Internet Day, Unicef underline the importance of protecting children by providing them digital education. Do you think that every nation should be in control of society’s digital education?

«Children are already fantastic at this. This is their world. And the education in school teaches our kids to be observant, at least in Sweden, they teach the kids critical thinking and fact checking. I’m not at all worried about the children. It’s the people over 50 that I worry about. They are very much less critical to what they read online then they ought to be».

Do you think that the government (of every nation) should intervene more in what concern negative comments and fake news? And what about the role of journalism?

«We all have an important role to play. Journalists need to show the difference between journalism and opinions bloggers, there should never be any doubt about what is what. So this is the challenge we all face; journalists, researchers anyone who can provide facts and correct unbiased information».

Do you think that hate comments are caused by the “immediacy of thoughts”, typical element of the internet?

«Yes. But mostly we see this development because of well financed and politically well organized actors who have a political or economic win from the spread of mistrust and disinformation. To spread the view of chaos in our democracies. To make people scared and search for a more closed and totalitarian rule. Ask yourselves, who wins from this? And with that answer hopefully you will get some energy to act. At least I did».

Next projects?

«Yes, always. Let’s talk again as soon as I have official updates».

Copyright © 2016 Sguardi di Confine è un marchio di Beatmark Communication di Valentina Colombo – All rights Reserved – p. iva 03404200127

redazione@sguardidiconfine.com – Testata registrata presso il Tribunale di Busto Arsizio n. 447/2016 – Direttore Responsabile: Valentina Colombo