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Mar 17, 2011

Grey areas reshape the Assange debate

A popular new social movement in Sweden, dedicated to exploring the "grey areas" of s-xual life, has been accused of being a campaign directed at Julian Assange.

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A popular new social movement in Sweden, dedicated to exploring the “grey areas” of sexual life, has been accused of being a campaign directed at Julian Assange, with tweets between the organisers talking of naming the movement after one of his accusers, and coaching each other to “keep the story close to the Assange situation”.

The tweets seem to contradict claims by the organisers that the movement was only inspired by the Assange situation, and had no focus on it, and the leading figures are all well-connected friends of Assange case complainant Anna Ardin.

PrataOmDet (Let’s Talk About It)  has become a sensation in Sweden, since it was simultaneously launched by half a dozen leading Swedish journalists on December 20 last year.  Its website features a range of stories about sex that went wrong, sex people didn’t want but acceded to, and all points in between.

Journalist Johanna Koljonen, who co-founded the group, says that the movement began as a twitter conversation “talking to people on twitter about how difficult it is to even think about the Assange case in a rational manner”, and telling of some bad “grey area” sexual experiences. Koljonen says she took no position on the case:

“Even if we’re able to unthink the troubling consequences for WikiLeaks if the allegations turn out to be true, and even if we’d by magical means find out the facts about what really happened in the contested situations, we probably still wouldn’t agree on how the facts should be interpreted.”

Asked to write it up for a newspaper, she organised a group of other writers by twitter to publish similar accounts on the same day, and needing a name for it:

“I tweeted, again very casually, that this thing in the papers was happening, and mentioned that obviously anyone who wanted to start on twitter was welcome to #talkaboutit — #prataomdet. I remember thinking that we would need a hash tag for the links to the articles …”

Indeed when PrataOmDet hit the Swedish media on Monday December 20, it had the appearance of a spontaneous uprising against s-xual coercion, by a group of journalists with little prior connection.

This was not the case. As contributors to the Swedish site Flashback discovered, the common link between many was Ardin herself, who was a twitter friend (i.e. following and followed by) to 12 of the most prominent 18 or so initial contributors to the movement.

Though Koljonen gave the impression of being at some distance from the case, she was in fact a close friend of Ardin’s, the first complainant in the case. Indeed, according to her twitter feed, she spent time with Ardin, and another woman whom police would subsequently interview as a witness, on the week Assange arrived in Sweden.

Another key organiser, Sofia Mirjamsdotter, denied knowing Ardin at all, on the collective blog Same Same But Different.

Yet her twitter feed showed that she had exchanged tweets with Ardin half a dozen times, most recently in July last year, asking about a restaurant one had attended, talking back and forth about it.

That there would be connection to Ardin was hardly earth-shattering, given the interconnections of a leftish feminist media network in Stockholm. Nevertheless, the connections, as mapped on the Flashback website were pretty striking.

Twelve of the 18 or so initial contributors to prataomdet, were twitter friends of Ardin’s, including most of the journalists who wrote and published pieces simultaneously in late December when the campaign was launched.

Yet perhaps the clearest sign that this campaign had other agendas was contained in the twitter discussion that proceeded the launch. Contrary to Koljonen’s claim that the name prataomdet came to her, one other idea was suggested:

@barsk we write various articles with a common tag of some kind. All publish about the same time. stand straight in the shit storm.
2010-12-14 21:18:47 via Twitter for iPad in reply to Barsk

… We’re aiming for Monday and must all talk to our editors, thursday latest. Regardless of what the newspapers say, we can blog on Monday
2010-12-14 22:38:19 via Twitter for iPhone

I think ‘#thanks anna’ is a nice little tag, but sounds like we’re taking a position on the issue. I like ‘I am Anna Ardin’ also but the same problem?
2010-12-14 22:41:34 via Twitter for iPhone

Okay decided, on argument: just because Anna’s name is known does not mean we should keep repeating it, so obviously we write without it!
2010-12-14 22:53:26 via web

The tweets pretty clearly indicate that the campaign was not only Ardin focused, but also Ardin-leaning. Despite Koljonen’s protestations that it was impossible to know what happened, there were no suggestions of a #thanksjulian tag. Ultimately it seems that that the only reason an Ardin name was decisively rejected was because it would continue to breach her privacy.

Nor does the discussion suggested a loose coalition of writers, but rather a media push being tightly co-ordinated, a feeling reinforced by a retweet by Koljonen [jocxy]:

danielbjork @ @ elingrelsson jocxy That said, I think that everyone who writes on Monday should be clear and keep everything close to the Assange situation.
2010-12-14 22:41:19 via web for Mac
Retweeted by jocxy

The push was spectacularly successful, and at a key moment in the case. On December 14 when the rapid organisation began, Assange had just been granted bail by the UK magistrates court, while he was awaiting extradition. Finally released two days later, he said that he had been warned of a “big counter-attack”. The day after Assange’s release, The Guardian published “10 days in Sweden”, a report by Nick Davies drawing on a copy of the 100-page police file on the case, leaked to him.

Then, the next Monday, PrataOmDet hit, and reset the Swedish media agenda for weeks to come. Of itself, the stories on its website do not disadvantage Assange. Indeed as the legal reform blogger Goran Rudling notes, they may even help him, because they demonstrated that the whole idea of “consent” and “willingness” in sex crime, was so confused in Sweden that no one knew what they were talking about.

But at another level, the campaign has reshaped the debate in the country where Assange will be tried, giving the impression that a vast sexual grey area has been expanding for too long, and that it is time to put a stop to it. And what explosive, high-profile trial might make that possible?

CORRECTION:

11/4/11 The original version of this story contained a line about a story published by Nick Davies in The Guardian on December 18 2010, headed ‘Ten Days in Sweden’. It suggested that The Guardian‘s story was ‘heavily skewed’ against Assange and that it omitted ‘much of the ambiguity and contradiction’ from a Swedish police report. We accept that there is no evidence to support the suggestion that the coverage was deliberately skewed and we have agreed to permanently remove the line.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle

Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle is Crikey's correspondent-at-large. He was co-editor of Arena Magazine for 15 years, and has written four hit stage shows for Max Gillies, two musicals, numerous books and produced TV shows including Comedy Inc and Backberner.

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10 thoughts on “Grey areas reshape the Assange debate

  1. Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall

    Sure looks like a smoking gun to me, the missing link (along with evidence that Bush’s con artist friend Karl Rove also has ties to these people – http://www.opednews.com/articles/Rove-Suspected-In-Swedish-by-Andrew-Kreig-101219-292.html) that proves Michael Moore’s and Naomi Wolf’s original claim that Assange was framed.

    What gets me is that this particular set-up serves two ugly purposes. In addition to demonizing (and possibly jailing) Assange on frivolous charges, it has, yet again, caused deep fissures between American feminists and other progressives. The whole Wikileaks/feminist controversy has smelled like classic Cointelpro tactics from the beginning.

    The use of identity politics to divide the progressive movement dates back to Gloria Steinem’s stint with the CIA in the 1960s. I write about my own close encounter with some of her agents in my recent memoir THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ACT: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN REFUGEE (www.stuartbramhall.com). I currently live in exile in New Zealand

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