Royal guards at parade in Stockholm.

Royal guards at parade in Stockholm.
The above warning came from Russian freelance journalist Lyudmila Savchuk in a recent interview with Business Insider Nordic. After spending time working undercover in a St Petersburg troll factory, Savchuk has unique insight into how propaganda and fake news are produced.

In Sweden, voters will be heading to the polls on September 9 to elect members of parliament, county councils and local councils - and now, Swedish authorities are gearing up to deal with disinformation and propaganda in the upcoming election campaigns.

"What we have done is that we have collected information about international elections. It shows that certain voter groups that foreign powers have targeted have been affected. Step two is that it can influence public opinion, but that does not necessarily affect the election outcome," says Linda Escar, deputy department head at the Swedish Security Service, Säpo.

Escar refers, for instance, to the disinformation that was spread in the US election saying it was possible to vote for Hillary Clinton by sending a text message, and addresses to polling places that turned out to be fake.

Comment: If they want tips on how to produce fake news they merely need to contact CNN or the BBC: US Establishment Hysterical About Russian Trolls - Even Pro-Gun Tweets Are Their Fault

Knowledge from foreign elections has also been useful for the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), which began preparing for the Swedish elections last autumn.

MSB headquarters in Stockholm.
© Jessica Gow/TT
An employee monitors screens at the MSB headquarters in Stockholm.
"We have looked at the elections in the USA, Germany and France, but also at Brexit. In the US, for instance, there was little awareness about there being a threat. Now we know that Russia tried to influence the election there. They saw hacking attempts and other incidents, but only separately. They did not see the connection," says Mikael Tofvesson, head of the Global Monitoring and Analysis Section at MSB.

Comment: There has never been any proof provided of Russian interference: Shadow Democracy: Spider at Heart of 'Russian' Election Meddling Lives in London

Parallel with investigating which channels for influence are relevant to Sweden - such as traditional media, social media, and even physical channels such as agitators - MSB has identified weaknesses.

"What are people afraid of? People who are frightened are less critical of sources," Mikael Tofvesson says.

Comment: Which is why the mainstream media is still in business.

Russian and Islamist influences are top priority

The lists of channels and weaknesses were cross-checked to identify Sweden's major major threats. The conclusions have been communicated in a forum for collaboration between the Police, the Security Service and the Election Authority, and in one large, national forum.

"We don't point out what other countries or operators are doing to hit against our vulnerabilities, but we are open about two things. One is Russia, which is to do with the security development in our neighbouring area, and the other is Islamist influence. Those are our two prioritised areas," Mikael Tofvesson says.

Linda Escar at Säpo does not want to give an assessment of how the presence of propaganda has changed compared to previous elections, but one thing is clear: social media is a channel that has expanded.

"The digitalisation, technology development and social media have changed the landscape. There are completely different opportunities today for sending messages directly to individuals without any of the source criticism that established media stand for," she says.

At the same time, she points out, the Swedish public's trust in social media is relatively lower in social media, and relatively higher when it comes to traditional media, authorities and political institutions.

"That is positive because it gives authorities the opportunity to break through if there ever was a need to refute information, about the voting process for instance," Linda Escar says.

Ann-Marie Åsheden is a Swedish journalist and writer who has studied propaganda as a phenomenon closely.

"It's a good thing that MSB is dealing with the problem of manipulation. The schools are doing their parts as well, teaching source criticism. But I think that we ourselves need to claim the main responsibility for not allowing ourselves to be manipulated," she says.

Comment: The UK has gone so far as brainwashing its own children: Propaganda outlet the BBC to brainwash students in how to identify what they consider Fake News

In a new book about propaganda, Åsheden attempts to explain what propaganda is, and why we are affected by it.

"Out of all types of influence, propaganda is the most efficient. It uses the full spectrum, and deploys all influencing techniques to the max. It's the combination of thought patterns served on a silver platter and emotional impact that makes it so powerful," Ann-Marie Åsheden says.

As individuals, we need to scrutinise our own need for affirmation, not allow our feelings to conquer our common sense, and not allow ourselves to become cogs in the wheel of propaganda machinery. Åsheden's advice to anyone encountering propaganda is to be curious, and to listen and have a conversation - rather than becoming hateful.

Comment: That's good advice, and one should start by looking critically at ones own government and its associated news outlets.

Respecting facts is incredibly important, she says.

"Certain things are objectively true. A person who ignores that will end up in the wrong place, sooner or later."

Strongly convinced people are often incapable of accepting facts, but Ann-Marie Åsheden agrees with Mikael Tofvesson at MSB: correcting facts and misinterpretations is paramount.

"When you see something that's incorrect, it's important to respond and question it. If something erroneous is left undisputed, that argument will win. Sometimes it can be important to save the onlookers," Åsheden says.

Maintaining a critical approach, reading articles all the way to the bottom, and only sharing material from known and trusted sources is the way ahead, according to Mikael Tofvesson.

Comment: Those 'trusted sources' have been proven to be liars: War Propaganda: The false BBC report that gave Israel the excuse to attack Syria

"You put your social capital in the balance when you share information."

This translated and edited article was first published in Swedish by Veckans Affärer.