Foto: David Werbrouck/Unsplash

LVU campaign highlights vulnerabilities in society

The so-called LVU (the Care of young persons special provisions act) campaign exposes an extensive vulnerability in Swedish society regarding a lack of trust between Swedish public authorities and some Swedish residents – and this lack of trust is subsequently exploited by foreign actors.

This is one of the conclusions of a new report that also points out that Swedish and international aspects of the campaign cannot be separated.

The report was commissioned by the Swedish Agency for Psychological Defence and maps out the origin and development of the LVU campaign, both in Sweden and internationally.

"The basis for the spread of the issue began in Sweden already in the summer of 2021. The Swedish protest movement did not arise in a vacuum. Instead, it is based on an emotionally charged issue and concern that has existed for a long time," says Linda Ahlerup, analyst at the Centre for Total Defence and Societal Security (CTSS), Swedish Defence University, who wrote the report together with Magnus Ranstorp, Associate Professor and research leader at CTSS.

Distrust of Swedish authorities, the judicial system, and various forms of municipal support systems – such as the social services – is not a new phenomenon and is particularly noted in vulnerable areas. The phenomenon is not new in an international context; similar narratives have been directed at multiple countries for many years.

Describes the development and actors of the campaign

The report describes the origins and development of the campaign – both in Sweden and internationally. The empirical material in the study consists primarily of content from open social media in several different languages – mainly Arabic and Swedish, and to some extent Turkish. The report continues to analyze the existing narratives and discusses challenges and possible measures for Swedish public administration.

It was in the beginning of 2022 that the improper information influence campaign in relation to the Swedish social services and the Act with Special Provisions on Care of Young People (LVU) attracted broad attention. Initially, several different actors in Sweden united on social media and in-person demonstrations, and the issue was widely spread internationally.

"It developed into what has been referred to as the largest influence campaign that Sweden has ever faced," says Linda Ahlerup.

In the wake of the campaign, there has been hatred and threats against Swedish public institutions and individual social workers, as well as incitement to violence and terrorist attacks. Actors with links to radical Islamist contexts – including violent ones – also contributed to spreading the narrative.

"The Swedish and international dimensions of the campaign cannot be separated. The fact that the information is so widely disseminated is partly because foreign individuals with millions of followers on social media discuss the issue, in combination with extensive foreign media reporting," says Magnus Ranstorp.

Narrative about LVU, social services and Sweden

One of the most influential narratives in the campaign, that social services in the enactment of LVU take custody of children, is based on loose and incorrect grounds. Moreover, social services and Swedish authorities are said to focus specifically on children with a foreign background and Muslim beliefs – and that this is a form of strategy. Another key narrative is that the taking into custody in accordance with LVU is equated with kidnapping and that Swedish public institutions thereby kidnap children – and in particular Muslim children.

"An important aspect to keep in mind is that there have been very few counterforces in relation to the disinformation and narratives that have been promoted and spread internationally. The actors who have attempted to counter such misinformation have also been subjected to hatred and threats. Swedish Muslim civil organizations, for example, have clearly and responsibly distanced themselves from the hate and disinformation campaign, but have been subjected to extensive criticism internationally," says Magnus Ranstorp.

However, the issue did not arise in a vacuum. Instead, it should be seen in relation to some of the vulnerabilities and areas of conflict that exist in Swedish society, such as distrust in Swedish public institutions and value clashes between cultural and religious expectations and legal principles in a democratic society.

"The work against disinformation must therefore be combined with preventive work against the underlying factors that cause this type of campaign to spread. These include confidence-building measures and increased knowledge of the areas of conflict in relation to differences in values. This requires coordinated efforts from Swedish authorities and municipalities at a completely different level than what is the case today," says Linda Ahlerup.

The Care of Young Persons (Special Provisions) Act – LVU

The Act (1990:52) with special provisions on the care of young persons – Swedish abbreviation LVU – came into force in 1990, and establishes the rights of Swedish society to protect children and young people under the age of 21 through the social services. The law provides children who are at risk of harm a possibility to be protected, even in cases where their legal guardians oppose it, and decisions to take children into care can be taken both urgently and for a longer period of time.

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Magnus Ranstorp

Research Director, Associate Professor +46 8-55342787
Camilla Magnusson

Head of External Relations and Communication, Head of Division +46 8-55342736