How a Phone Glitch Sparked a Teenage Riot

When kids turned a state-owned telecom system into a proto-Internet, police cracked down with brutal force

Shaun Raviv
Published in
16 min readDec 20, 2018


Illustrations: Nicole Xu

OnOn a Friday night in September 1982, teenagers poured out of the Fridhemsplan metro station. First just a few dozen, then hundreds, and soon more than a thousand of them filled the station’s hall, the sidewalk, and the road outside. Eventually, they walked three blocks south to Rålambshovsparken, entering the grassy Stockholm park via a concrete pedestrian bridge.

“They were everywhere,” said police superintendent Kjell Andersson. “They were on top of the bus shelter, in the trees, on the roofs of the polling huts, and on the electrical poles.” The teenagers had come from all over Stockholm and its surrounding towns. They weren’t drunk or stoned. They didn’t have placards or a cause. They weren’t protesting or demonstrating. They were there simply because they’d agreed to go there. And many of them had come to Rålambshovsparken to see people they knew but had never met in person.

The teenagers didn’t have long to find each other. After an hour or so, the police arrived, not exactly sure what to do with a group of a thousand teenagers who had suddenly appeared, with no clear reason to be there. Sweden’s constitution included the right to peaceful assembly, but the country was an orderly, regulated society where it was believed that most of young people’s needs could and should be met by the state. If you wanted to play sports, you could do so at a designated sports club. If you wanted to socialize with other youths, you could do so at a prescribed school or a youth center. The gathering at the park that night was unstructured and impulsive, built by word of mouth; it was the opposite of what Swedish society was prepared for.

More than 50 police officers were sent to the park, at least some of them from the Piketstyrka, similar to American SWAT teams. They wore riot helmets, carried batons, and brought police dogs. “They were a bit scared,” said Olle Lindgren, one of the teenagers who had gathered that day. “They hadn’t seen anything like it before.” When the police dress for a riot, they usually find one. In his book Europe, Europe, German writer Hans Magnus…