One word of advice: Think before you hit the “Send” button.
Some years ago, one of my ex-colleagues made the classic mistake of sending an e-mail to everybody at the office in stead of the partner of his dreams. Most took it in its stride and wished our by now red-faced colleague good luck. One colleague apparently thought that the mail in fact was written to him – and that did cause a little confusion – while another thanked for the advances but didn’t want to leave a happy marriage.
Love aside, this week has seen two cases of careless use of e-mail here in Sweden and in both cases the role of the Social Democratic party has been part of the problem.
Mail to the Social Democrats
The first case had to do with official but classified information issued regularly by an agency under the Ministry of Defense. During the tsunami hearings the Constitutional Committee of the Swedish parliament discovered that the secretary for international cooperation at the Social Democratic Headquarters was included on the list even if she has no functions in the Swedish civil service.
One question is of cause why the Social Democratic party organisation should receive this kind of information when other parties did not. Is the party per definition closer to the Swedish state than other parties – not just because it is the governing party, but because of the way it sees its role in Swedish society.
Another question which is worth considering is if the Social Democrats could use the information for public relations and propaganda purposes and gain an unfair advantage in the public debate. It is not the first time that the border between the Swedish state and the Social Democratic party has appeared somewhat blurred.
The Consitutional Committee is considering declassifying the mailing list in order to show who actually have access to classified information.
Mail from the Social Democrats
If you read a letter in the press, should you assume that the name of the writer is a cover for an official in a political party or an interest organisation?
My advice is that you should at least be suspiscious. Parties and organisations know that their general credibility is limited which is why news media rely on the spontaneous opinion from the man – or woman – on the street. This is why parties and organisations usually organise mailing campaigns using fronts.
But to the case in point: Some time ago Swedish news media and politicians began receiving mails from persons who alleged that Fredrik Reinfeldt, the leader of the Swedish Conservatives, had hired Latvian babysitters, moonlighting builders and so on.
It didn’t quite add up to robbing the Bank of Sweden but the aim was definitely to hurt Reinfeldt’s credibility in the run-up to the elections in September.
The thing is: You’re not anonymous on the internet – it is really easy to find out which computer a mail has been sent from. I can do it. And the security unit at the Swedish parliament can do it. And the mails were sent from a computer at the Social Democratic HQ.
At first the Social Democratic party secretary denied any involvment but on Friday an official at the HQ confessed that he had sent the mails in question and resigned. It is hard to get a clear picture of how central the official in question was or what his exact tasks in the party organisation were: We only know that he has worked at the Social Democratic HQ since 1999 and specialised in media relations and polls.
A question could be: Were the Social Democrats trying to test the weak spots in the Conservative defenses? Was is a unique event or did the mail campaign reveal a more sinister side to the Social Democratic party culture?
Other politicians have come forward with stories about smear campaigns originating from the Social Democrats and if you go back in time, Swedish politics will show you a history of mud-slinging but the present case will be seen as a clear escalation.
PS: Just a final word to you guys in Erbil. I know where you live. Believe it or not – it is that easy.