The "racist" "hate storm" against Swedish midfielder Jimmy Durmaz, who caused a free kick that led to Sweden's loss to Germany in the FIFA 2018 World Cup, has been mostly caused by bots, Per Ödling, a professor of broadband communication at Lund University, told the news outlet FPlus.
Ödling analyzed the numerous posts on Durmaz's Instagram account, which was flooded with racist slurs and death threats following Sweden's loss in the World Cup group stage.
"Data shows that there was no 'hatred storm,' but a 'love storm.' On the other hand, it appears like a botnet has entered the stage only to later delete the hateful posts," Ödling said.
He also said that traditional media outlets "blindly" contribute to the spreading of an erroneous image of Sweden as a "racist" country. The major newspapers do not understand the power that botnets wield, Ödling said.
"The fact that Swedish newspapers and media use the last millennium's technology in this millennium makes them blind and gullible and turns them into what is commonly called ‘useful idiots' in spreading a picture of a hateful Sweden. Sad," Ödling said.
Previously, media strategist Brit Stakson also warned that bots could have been used in an organized campaign to spread a "false narrative."
"It's deeply problematic to present obscure views of a minority as being a public outcry. If they were partly automated, things are even worse," Stakson wrote in an opinion piece in the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
However, award-winning journalist Jack Werner reviewed several thousand comments left on Durmaz' Instagram page and found no support for the claim that any organized campaign was behind the comments. Instead, he claimed that some of the comments were "spontaneous and organic." Of the first 3,000 comments written to Durmaz, Werner flagged only 30 as "racist." He also noted that as many as 800 had been deleted shortly afterwards.
After the fateful match against Germany, 29-year-old Durmaz's Instagram page was filled with hateful comments and threats. Among other things, Durmaz, who was born in Sweden into a Syriac Orthodox family, was called an "Arab devil," "suicide bomber," "Taliban" and was urged to "go home."
Following the incident, Swedish politicians and celebrities joined in support of Durmaz and in condemnation of racism. For instance, Swedish Social Affairs Minister Annika Strandhäll appeared in parliament wearing Durmaz's jersey.
Sweden's national football squad supported Durmaz with a dramatic performance, in which all the players chanted "F**k racism."