This Guy Holding a Chicken Is @Sweden. Is He Also the Future of Twitter?

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 30 2011 10:21 AM

This Guy Holding a Chicken Is @Sweden. Is He Also the Future of Twitter?

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Sweden’s tourism ministry recently announced that the nation’s official Twitter account @Sweden would now be run by a new Swedish citizen each week. The hope of the campaign is that every new curator will share his or her personal experiences of what it’s like to be Swedish, while illuminating something about the broader culture. As a Swedephile by marriage, I wholeheartedly applaud this effort to share the graciousness, good humor, and disgusting chewing tobacco of everyday Swedish people with the world at large. As a social media curator, I’m curious as to whether it actually has any potential for long-term success.

The project has already worked liked gangbusters from a marketing perspective. The @Sweden account has increased by 75 percent to more than 14,500 followers since American media outlets first started reporting on it two weeks ago. But its tweet content has been hit-or-miss. At its best, reading @Sweden feels like a trip to a foreign land as a guest of a warm native host. At its worst, the feed has been a showcase of random sex jokes and an avenue for blatant self-promotion.

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But it’s an interesting experiment in the democratization of speech, which is a big part of Twitter’s core promise as a platform. Learning that this week’s curator Anders Dalenius—pictured above with a traditional Swedish chicken (recently deceased—the chicken, not Dalenius)—is a six years sober and enjoyed the latest Transformers film obviously does not carry the same weight as updates on the #Jan25 uprising in Egypt. But there is something to be said for the value of giving otherwise anonymous citizens who might on their own have a few dozen followers a major platform to share their thoughts about a nation’s heritage and culture.

Last week’s curator, Hasan Ramic, is a Bosnian immigrant to Sweden who tweeted about otherwise unheralded Swedish delicacies such as juleskum (“Christmas foam”) and Kebab Pizza (as delicious as it sounds). In between tweeting food facts and partaking in such international pastimes as hating the Miami Heat, Ramic also shared a solemn account [edited for clarity] of what it was like to grow up in Sweden as a refugee from the Balkan wars of the 1990s:

@Sweden: When the war started in Bosnia, a part of the conflict was based on religion. We were Muslim, and forced to flee to Sweden.
@Sweden: In our fight to preserve our Bosnian Muslim identity we didn't celebrate Christmas. It was a Christian tradition and not to be observed.
@Sweden: The thing is. My younger brother got really sad. He had made us all Christmas presents along with the other kids [at school].
@Sweden: That's when our family took the executive decision to start celebrating Christmas. For my little brother's sake.
@Sweden: He made us greeting cards and bead necklaces in Kindergarten, and got Legos, Biker Mice, and Pepparkakor [graham cracker cookies] in return.
@ Sweden: We thought: Christian or not - any tradition that's about giving kids presents should be celebrated.
@Sweden: We still observe our traditional Muslim holidays, but it's not about religion for us. It's about the spirit.

Tens of thousands of immigrants from Bosnia fled to Sweden for its open asylum policies during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, but the nation continues to wrestle with immigration and assimilation. The country’s biggest soccer star, Zlatan Ibrahimović, is an ethnic Bosnian. Yet in 2010, an anti-immigrant party gained a foothold in the country’s parliament for the first time. When the Swedish Tourism board says on its Curators of Sweden website that “Hasan Ramic is @Sweden” and gives him the opportunity to speak for his nation they are telling us a lot more about the country than when neighboring national Twitter feed @visitnorway shares a guide to the fjords. It would be nice to see more countries like @Sweden.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Jeremy Stahl is a Slate senior editor. You can follow him on Twitter.