The mystery of the Swedish communications manager

In September 2020, the Swedish magazine focused on the healthcare industry, Dagens Medicin (Today’s Medicine), reported about Skåne County (Skåne province in Sweden) was being sued by the Swedish healthcare company Vårdinnovation for breach of contract.

The news report said that Skåne County had suspicions of incorrect procurement in Vårdinnovation’s digital tool Vårdexpressen that is intended to streamline patient visits to the region’s healthcare centers.

The report also quoted Vårdinnovation’s communications manager Sara Johansson as saying, “For Vårdinnovation, it is obvious to keep agreements entered into. When Region Skåne broke the agreement without reasonable grounds, Vårdinnovation consulted several of Sweden’s leading lawyers in contract and procurement law, who all judged that Vårdinnovation has the right on its side” (Source – translated by Microsoft Edge).

Here is more about Sara Johansson.

She has a LinkedIn profile with 1,263 followers.

Her bio says, “Former Head of Corporate Communications at a global company. Multiple years of experience consulting various firms in different industries. Solid experience of strategic and operational communication work with international connections. Responsibility for PR and media issues. Preparatory crisis management, developed strategies for different scenarios.”

Her job history indicates that she has earlier been with companies like Pfizer and Nestle.

She has also been reasonably regularly sharing updates on LinkedIn, though, for a person with work experience starting in 2008. she started posting on LinkedIn only around September 2020.

Why this scrutiny into Sara’s career?

That’s because Sara Johansson, Vårdinnovation’s communications manager, does not exist!

The Swedish national public television broadcaster, SVT, recently reported that Skåne County’s investigation into the procurement with Vårdinnovation revealed that Sara does not exist!

When SVT wanted to meet Sara Johansson, it seems she stated by email that: “Vårdinnovation chooses to communicate only in writing with you to avoid misunderstandings.”

When Damon Tojjar, the then CEO of Vårdinnovation was arrested in December 2020 on suspicion of, among other things, aggravated bribery (according to SVT), Sara Johansson stopped responding to SVT’s emails!

Last week, Damon Tojjar revealed to Swedish Police that Sara’s email and social media profile is a joint communication account created by the company so that the actual people in the company need not communicate with the media and that several employees use the (email and social media) account depending on the context!

As per forensic analysis, the posts on Sara Johansson’s account were made from Damon Tojjar’s phone!

This is enormously interesting for multiple reasons.

The first thought is about the ethics of creating a fictitious person. This is obviously wrong, but consider how company pages exist on social media platforms. Or corporate email IDs. They are not connected with one person either and a set of people are responsible to communicate through them. The big difference is that they do not hide the fact that they are not individual humans – they make it explicitly clear that they are corporate handles or accounts. Yet, we people write to them, tweet to them, and are perfectly ok to get responses from them. Many companies also add initials of the person who has taken the effort to write a particular email/tweet/message just to add the human touch to such communication.

The second thought is around the need to create a fictitious person. Why go to this extent? One possible reason is to earn the media’s respect/attention that a professional communications person is talking with them (though, only on email).

The more effort in creating this charade, the shadier the whole thing looks, including the company’s intent. SVT quotes Eliot Higgins, the managing director of Bellingcat, a UK-based investigative journalism website, as saying that the photo of Sara on LinkedIn is false and that it may have been picked up from sites like “This person does not exist.” (Each time you refresh the page, you see a new AI-generated face!)

He adds in the SVT quote that “several details in the photograph are typical of AI-generated images, such as what the hair looks like, that the person only has one earring and the white background”.

This is a house of cards situation. When the media comes to know that the ‘person’ they are communicating with about a company is fake, the perception about the company is likely to head South.

With increasing evolution in deep-fakes, it’s perhaps possible, in the near future, to also make such fictitious characters talk on the phone or through a video call, in real-time.

And when we have true artificial intelligence that (who?) resides only in digital form, but is/are adept at specific functions (like communications), they/it could even have a LinkedIn profile where they/it clearly notes the fact they/it does/do not exist in human form.

This post quickly went from news to opinion to science fiction (which may simply be ‘news’ a few years from now)!

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