Does Public Diplomacy Need a Theory of Disruption? The Role of Nonstate Actors in Counter-branding the Swedish COVID-19 Response

  • Received : 2021.03.05
  • Accepted : 2021.06.04
  • Published : 2021.06.28


Public diplomacy (PD) scholars tend to consider two main principals: the country or agent that conducts PD (Actor A), and target groups in the host country in which PD is conducted (Actor B). The field currently lacks theories of how communications between Actors A and B can be disrupted by a third party, such as a group of motivated trolls, an organised advocacy group, or a hostile country and its agents. The purpose of this article is to outline some theoretical considerations for how the PD research field might move away from a two-actor model of PD to one in which disruption is part of the discussion. The case study explores the activities of an interest group called Media Watchdogs of Sweden (MEWAS). MEWAS was a group of around 200 members who met in a hidden Facebook group to coordinate off-platform activities aimed at influencing perceptions of how the Swedish government handled the COVID-19 pandemic in the eyes of foreign governments, researchers, decision-makers, and media. Much critical news coverage in the international press has been linked to this group. Unpacking some of MEWAS' activities, which can be considered a quite typical mixture of legitimate and illegitimate communication techniques used by activist groups, can help to shed light on some difficult questions regarding disruption in PD.



The author is grateful for funding from the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation for the project Digital Diplomacy in a Turbulent World.


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