Interview with Sofia Mirjamsdotter about social media, #prataomdet and more

Every day millions of tweets discuss all kind of topics. But some aspects of people’s personal lives are still less visible in the public online debate. Sofia Mirjamsdotter is a well known Swedish journalist and blogger who helped to make people on Twitter talk about what they didn’t dare to talk about before: negative sexual experiences when boundaries were violated. We had a chat with Sofia.

Please tell our readers a bit about yourself, what your background is and what you do for a living?
I am a journalist, 40 years old and a mother of three. I’m also a web nerd who discovered the Internet in the mid 90s, when I started to hang out on forums and discussion boards. I began to blog in 2005. Three years later I launched a blog with the main focus on media, and that one later got an award. Right after that I quit my job and decided to make a living from public speaking and educating journalists, but also administrative authorities on Internet and social media. Today my income comes from both speaking and writing.

Photo by Pelle Sten (CC BY 2.0)

On your blog you mention that people sometimes get very angry at you. Why is that? Are you actively looking for trouble?
I try to create change and I use the tools that I have. I like to write, so I choose to publish my thoughts and opinions if I find them important and if I believe that I can make a difference. My goal is not to provoke, but to engage others on issues and to make them think about them.

What are the most discussed topics in the Swedish blogosphere and Twitter sphere?
Difficult question. I guess people discuss what’s on the news agenda, mostly. Politics, culture, sports, media and things like that. And there is also a huge group of teenagers who discuss fashion and stuff that doesn’t really interest me.

Would you say that bloggers in Sweden get well along and that they know how to debate controversial topics without starting to fight or to get offensive?
Yes! In general, absolutely! There is a feeling of unity and being one community, even across groups with different views on politics and society. Naturally you have permanent conflicts, and especially among the younger ones those can get very intense and hard to look at sometimes. But in the political blogosphere it is not uncommon that bloggers from different parties or from different sides of the political spectrum together stand up for important causes, like the freedom of the Internet or the fight against xenophobia and racism.

Last year you were chosen as the winner of a big Swedish journalism award together with Johanna Koljonen for the campaign #prataomdet. Can you tell us more about the background?
It started with a regular Twitter conversation. Johanna sparked a debate on Twitter about bad sexual experiences from when one was younger and which in retrospect might be considered an assault. During the conversation it became clear that many people find it hard to speak about that in public. But me and some others started to publish our experiences and all of a sudden the Swedish Twitter sphere exploded with personal accounts on negative sexual experiences and situations when boundaries were violated. All tweets included the hashtag #prataomdet (talk about it). The result was a website, a book, several appearances on tv and radio, lectures and even a stage play as well as public hearings where sex was discussed in public. Recently I met a guy who didn’t participate in #prataomdet but who had heard about it and who suddenly remembered an incident when he had sex with a girl who didn’t want to but didn’t protest enough. He called her several years later to apologize. That was great to hear!

Do you think it was pure luck that this topic became big after the initial Twitter conversation, or is it something that you think one could repeat with any other engaging topic if one pulls the right triggers?
I think it was luck. There was no plan to make this become a huge hype. Even though there might be some learnings here how to start a viral campaign on Twitter I think in the end it depends on people’s individual engagement, and that’s hard to predict. In this special case people simply had a big need to talk about that topic. The media attention we got afterwards was probably in part due to the fact that #prataomdet was the first “initiative” of its kind.

Do you think #prataomdet will have a permanent impact on how sensitive or tabooed topics are being discussed online?
Maybe. There were follow-ups like for example #homoriot where homesexual users talked about their experiences and the attacks they are confronted with. So maybe the answer is “yes”.

You said in the beginning that you are a web nerd. What will happen next in the digital world?
I can’t really answer that because I’m bad at predicting and I prefer to live in the here and now. The evolution of the digital world is progressing at such a fast pace – one year before Twitter nobody could imagine Twitter. So I guess what happens in the future is something we hardly are able to predict today.

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