MISLEADING: Murder in Sweden up 40 percent since 2012?

A claim made in The Spectator, asserting that murder rates in Sweden have increased by 40 percent since 2012, was picked up by conservative commentator Paul Joseph Watson and shared in a video entitled “The Truth About the Swedish Election,” hosted with the Swedish YouTuber, Angry Foreigner.

The video, posted on Wednesday, has received 225K views and significant engagement on Facebook, including referrals from The Donald, Infowars, and Swedish Americans for Sverigedemokraterna. Watson also shared the statistic in a tweet on September 4, which has since been retweeted over 2,000 times.

The claim itself did not specify the source of the data, but is likely based on statistics published by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, which lists 113 incidences of lethal violence in Sweden in 2017, compared to 68 in 2012. However, the claim misuses official statistics in order to imply a significant increase in murder rates.

The figure published by the Council refers to the number of cases of lethal violence over a given period and has thus not been adjusted to reflect the population increase over time. Comparable data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s International Homicide Statistics Database shows an average rate of 0.97 intentional homicides per 100,000 members of the Swedish population between 2003 to 2015. The highest rate was 1.21 cases per 100,000 in 2007, and the lowest was 0.71 in 2012.

While UNODC intentional homicide statistics are unavailable for 2017, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, the number of confirmed cases of lethal violence per 100,000 inhabitants was 1.2 in 2017 (up from 1.07 in 2016).

While there was an increase in the instances of lethal violence, the Spectator’s claim cites a percentage rise since 2012, where in fact 2012 represented the lowest point over a nine-year period. The 2017 figure should be viewed in the context of a general decline in instances of lethal violence between 2009 to 2012, and does not represent an outlying trend in the context of the dataset. Similar rates of intentional homicide were apparent in 2004 (1.14 per 100,000 people) and 2007 (1.21).

It’s important to note that the Council categorises cases of “lethal violence” as events with lethal outcomes that have been investigated by the police, reflecting incidences such as suicide and fatal attacks as well as intentional homicide. The use of these statistics to imply an increase in the murder rate alone is therefore also misleading.