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Health & Science

Sweden's Social Experiment On Twitter Celebrates Third Anniversary

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A social experiment on Twitter has just marked its third anniversary. The account is @Sweden and 80,000 people are following the often unexpected things it has to say. NPR's Ari Shapiro explains.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: When the official Twitter account for the nation of Sweden posts something about the small town of Sjobo, this is not what you expect.

MARGIT RICHERT: Sjobo is famed in all of Sweden for having 46 really daft neo-Nazis. If you don't mind Nazis, however, Sjobo is a really nice place.

SHAPIRO: Or a tweet saying that if Scandinavia were a dysfunctional family...

RICHERT: Sweden would be the anxious hipster brother, always buying organic coffee and just harassing everybody else.

SHAPIRO: Those were both actual tweets from @Sweden.

RICHERT: I'm Margit Richert. I live outside of Malmo out in the countryside. I am a food writer and a chef, and I just handled the Twitter account for Sweden for a week.

SHAPIRO: Each week, a different person becomes the official voice of Sweden on Twitter. About 150 ordinary Swedes have held the megaphone over the last three years. Swedish marketing consultant Patrick Kampmann conceived of the project at the ad agency Volontaire. He says national branding is often superficial and cliched.

PATRICK KAMPMANN: Like a fake dating profile. Whereas this is, I would say, it's just Twitter and it's just a small thing, but it's proving our society's view on democracy.

SHAPIRO: He wanted to disprove the stereotype that Swedish people are perfect, superficial and a bit boring, IKEA-ish in his words. The project is called Curators of Sweden.

KAMPMANN: We thought it was nice to see the representatives as curators as opposed to sort of ambassadors.

SHAPIRO: Ambassadors are supposed to always be diplomatic. Curators can express their personal taste. When Margit Richert in southern Sweden finished her week in charge, she passed the baton to a government bureaucrat in Stockholm named Niklas Lofgren.

RICHERT: Hello?

NIKLAS LOFGREN: Hello, is it Margit?

RICHERT: Yes, it is.

LOFGREN: Hi, it's Niklas, the new real Sweden. (Laughter).

RICHERT: Hello, usurper.

LOFGREN: So how is it down there in the south of Sweden? Are you still that what we call in Swedish (speaking Swedish), overweighted and argumentative?

RICHERT: Yes, we are actually.

LOFGREN: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: There have been some road bumps, offensive or explicit tweets, that caused controversy. But by almost any measure, this project seems a success. It has won awards, it just celebrated its third anniversary and now other countries on Twitter, including Ireland, have followed Sweden's lead. Ari Shapiro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.