Terror Attack in Stockholm Brings Out the Best and the Worst in Social Media

Police car in Stockholm covered with flowers during manifestation (Photo: Karin Lindgren Strömbäck)

On Friday afternoon, my hometown Stockholm suffered a terror attack. The terrorist drove a stolen beer truck down several blocks in the most popular pedestrian street in the city centre, killing four and injuring fifteen. Predictably, shock and confusion followed, but the authorities responded efficiently and the police apprehended the terrorist within hours. Further investigation is on-going, but more suspects are being interrogated about potential involvement.

For the people in Stockholm, practical problems followed. In the initial hours, everyone in central Stockholm was advised to remain indoors. The metro and commuter trains stood still. Traffic was jammed. The city centre was in lock-down as police looked for suspects and secured evidence. Rumours of shots fired in different locations spread, but turned out to be false. Telecommunications worked relatively well which made it possible to check on family members and friends, though many could not get out of their workplaces or were stuck on public transport.

Stockholm’s city layout is such that all rail traffic runs through the main artery around the Old Town and Central Station. As this was blocked, no rail traffic moved. Anyone in the south part of the city who needed to go to the northern part, and vice versa, had difficulties. Within hours, a hashtag – #openstockholm – was started to offer rides, but also food and lodging to those who could not make it home. People opened their cars and homes to strangers. Stockholm came together in this dark moment and social media was one of the tools.

There is also a dark side to social media around the terror attack. Racists spread doctored images as acts of disinformation. A popular theme was editing images of happy or indifferent muslims into the photos from the street where the terror attack happened (as in London two weeks prior). One showed a hijab-wearing woman walking happily beside the bodies of the victims. Another a young boy grinning at the camera and doing a thumbs-up.

Depending which filter bubble you belong to, social media would give very different images of the reactions to the terror attack. One of support and unity, another of hate and racism. The terror attack in Stockholm brought out the best and the worst in social media. In real life, love conquered hate and violence; on Sunday afternoon ten thousand gathered in central Stockholm in a manifestation of love.

As I write this, news of another terror attack come from Egypt, where blasts in two Coptic churches killed dozens and injured many more during Palm Sunday celebrations. My heart weeps for the victims in Stockholm and Egypt.
This is Netopia's newsletter April 10 2017