Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

Swedengate Was a Lesson in How Easily Misinformation Spreads

By Elisabeth Braw

14 Jun 2022 · 5 min read

Editor's Note

A bizarre story with serious implications: A groundless Reddit post about Swedes refusing to feed their guests dinner went viral, and showed how easily misinformation can take on a life of its own.

There are a lot of Sweden-haters out there. Or rather, a lot of people with time on their hands and possibly a bit of help from people and groups wishing to harm Sweden. Within just a couple of days, a bizarre Reddit post about Swedes not feeding their guests dinner became an internet phenomenon—even though there’s no research backing it up. Other countries can learn lessons from the mysterious Swedengate and how easily misinformation can spread, even when there’s no malign actor behind it, just simple gullibility.

“What is the weirdest thing you had to do at someone else’s house because of their culture/religion?” a recent Reddit poster asked in May. Another user responded that “I remember going to my swedish friends house. And while we were playing in his room, his mom yelled that dinner was ready. And check this. He told me to WAIT in his room while they ate. That shit was fucking wild.” In no time, the comment was going viral on Reddit, then on Twitter, then on Instagram. People begin writing in with comments about how weird and inhospitable Swedes are. One Instagram post added a map that illustrated how stingy Northern Europeans are, with Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and parts of northern Germany marked a frightening dark red.

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