Freedom of expression

In a democracy people shall be able to think what they want and have the opportunity to express their opinions. Freedom of expression is one of our rights and a pillar of our society.

A constitutional right

Freedom of expression is a constitutional right in Sweden and is important for an open and functioning democracy. Everybody has the right to have their voice heard. It helps to ensure that society is fair and it promotes open debate. When everyone has the right to express their opinion, it is also permitted to raise the problems and injustices that exist in society – and we have the right to demand change.

Unfortunately, this is not self-evident in all parts of the world. In many countries, freedom of expression is restricted. Governments restrict access to the internet, censor the media and punish people for the opinions they express or write. People can be imprisoned and sometimes even executed for an opinion they have.

There are also some limitations in Sweden. For example, you may not knowingly spread false information about other people, threaten others or make condescending slurs about a person’s skin colour, ethnicity, faith or sexual orientation.

Theme freedom of expression Speech bubble with steel wire.

Image: TT.

Freedom of expression can be a challenge

Sweden is a country with very strong freedom of expression – which is great! However, freedom is also a challenge. A society in which people may think critically and challenge power is also a society vulnerable to disinformation. With the conditions that exist today, opinions can be spread rapidly, to very many people. It also means that if antagonistic foreign powers wish to influence a country’s population by spreading misleading information, this is highly effective – especially in a country that has a constitutional right to freedom of expression.

The Psychological Defence Agency works to raise awareness among the population about the fact that misleading information exists and is disseminated with a view to harming Sweden. Our remit includes countering misleading information that comes from outside Sweden and that is directed at Sweden.

We all have a responsibility

We all have a responsibility to think twice before spreading information further. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what is misleading information and what is just information or a person’s opinion. Being critical of sources and contemplating our own responsibility as media consumers is a good foundation.

But, it is up to up to each and every of us which thoughts, ideas or opinions we choose to share and express.

When our rights become a vulnerability

In 2023, a number of incidents in Sweden caused an increase in disinformation. Some people in the country chose to express their opinion by burning scriptures. And, since we have freedom of expression in Sweden, they also have the right to do so, even though it upset many people.

As the incidents stirred up the emotions of many, this resulted in the information spreading rapidly. Misleading information alleging that the state supported scripture burning was disseminated, with the intention of creating unrest within and outside of Sweden. A portrayal of Sweden as Islamophobic spread around the world and other countries were urged to harm Sweden for allowing the scripture burning incidents.

When the security level was raised from a three to a four in Sweden, many citizens started to question matters and wanted to restrict our freedom of expression. When we begin to doubt our rights, we become vulnerable, making it easier for antagonistic foreign powers to exploit society’s vulnerabilities to harm Sweden.