Dark Scenario of Unfettered Tweeting Plays Out on @Sweden

Asking employees to be brand ambassadors and take to Twitter to share news and interact with the world beyond an organization's real and virtual walls is commonplace now, but that doesn't mean it still doesn't make senior leaders nervous. These leaders are counseled that they have to give up some control in the social media age—that conversations about their brand go on within and without them, to paraphrase George Harrison.

Luckily for these nervous types, Curators of Sweden, an initiative of the Swedish Institute and VisitSweden, launched the @Sweden Twitter account. The account is controlled by a different Swedish citizen each week, and is providing social media managers, communications professionals and C-suite execs with a worst-case scenario they can measure themselves against.

A June 10 New York Times report on the @Sweden account, which launched in December 2011, said that weekly @Sweden "curators" are selected by a committee, must be willing to post in English and are encouraged to engage in their "normal Twitter behavior" while being sure not to give the impression that they represent all of Sweden. The goal of the program is to send a message of a progressive, democratic Sweden and attract like-minded tourists.

The Times story set off a wave of coverage. On June 12, reports filtered out that the current @Sweden curator had tweeted some ill-considered questions and comments about Jews:

"Whats the fuzz with jews. You can't even see if a person is a jew, unless you see their penises, and even if you do, you can't be sure!?"

"In nazi German they even had to sew stars on their sleeves. If they didn't, they could never now who was a jew and who was not a jew."

"Where I come from there is no jews. I guess its a religion. But why were the nazis talking about races? Was it a blood-thing (for them)?"

"I'm sorry if some of you find the question offensive. Thats was not my purpose. I just don't get why some people hates jews so much."

"I thought it was a good idea to ask the question when so many well educated people all over the world can answer. But no. Bad idea."

This particular curator had the misfortune to be in control of the @Sweden handle when the Times published its report—or perhaps she's a prankster enjoying the world stage. From her own Twitter handle these tweets wouldn't have gone far. But from the @Sweden account? Yes, bad idea—for @Sweden, if not for the curator.

The Swedish Institute and VisitSweden took a huge gamble with the @Sweden program. Despite its plan to avoid having the curators stand in for Sweden itself, that is exactly what happened. In the process, the organizations enacted the darkest scenario imagined by brands worried about the lack of message control on social channels. That, in itself, provides some kind of comfort and a negative benchmark to keep in mind.

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI