The front cover of Wednesday’s Metro newspaper had a full-page spread with four pictures of a blonde woman and the words “Who is Veronika?” plastered across the middle.
The question, and the subsequent story, kept Swedes busy chatting around water coolers all day. The original article has since been translated into English and shared on Facebook over 3,000 times.
“Many love the story and the suspense in it, which delights me more than you can understand,” Jack Werner, the journalist behind the piece, told The Local.
“Others think it’s not news at all, which I totally understand. This goes very well with my own personal slogan: ‘Nothing has happened but it’s a good story’.”
The article delves into the tracking of an online commenter and blogger who sometimes employs the alias “TheIneffableSwede”. The chase began when Werner was trying to find the author of a comment in The Guardian newspaper who accused the CEO of a prominent computer gaming company of ignoring complaints of sexism, a paragraph which was later turned into an article by the UK paper.
Unable to track down the commenter for an interview, Werner dug into her (or his) colourful past, through her thousands of online comments on various newspapers (including The Local), her blogs, videos, and stories that had accumulated over the six years.
Upon deeper inspection, however, Werner found that the character could be traced back to a person by the name of Veronika Larsson – a young Swede who spoke five languages, had lived in 11 countries, and was educated in Sweden, California and London.
But it all sounded too good to be true for the sleuth-solving Swedish journalist.
And it was. Veronika didn’t exist. Her pictures traced back to Tiffany Olson, a 26-year-old woman who lives in the United States and who had nothing at all to do with “Veronika” or “The Ineffable Swede”.
“It’s so bizarre, I don’t even know what to think about it,” she told the Swedish journalist when he told her she’d been serving as the online face of TheIneffableSwede.
Werner’s article, a sprawling 4,000 word chase through Veronika’s history, and including an unusual conversation with the woman whose identity was stolen, has raised questions among Swedes about the true identity of Veronika. And further, about the staggering level of unknown on the internet.
In addition to spawning a flurry of activity on social media, the story also prompted the Aftonbladet tabloid to write about the mystery of Veronika, as well as media trade publications.
For journalist Werner, the story’s connection to the internet is among its most fascinating aspects.
“The web plays a tremendously important role in our society, but since it’s in a way still a novelty we’re not all accustomed to it yet,” he said.
“I’m often comparing it to the microwave: 20 years after introducing it to the general public (there are) urban legends about how it would cook your intestines if you stood beside it. In the same way we’re telling stories about the strangeness and curiosities of the web today, something I’m actually writing a book about right now.”
As to whether there will be any kind of follow up to the viral article in Metro, Werner remains unsure.
“I will try to (write a follow-up), even though I don’t really know if I want to,” he told The Local.
“In some way I think the story is at it’s absolute best right here, right now. As a huge mystery.”
Editor’s Note: The Local’s Swede of the Week is someone in the news who – for good or ill – has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as Swede of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.