Blog

By Andy Bichlbaum on Oct 19 2010 - 2:05pm Tagged: Chevron, Oil industry, reveal release Project: Chevron's $80 million ad campaign gets flushed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 19, 2010

Massive Chevron Ad Campaign Derailed, Media Slapstick Follows
News outlets, citizens duped by web of deceit - but whose?

A day-long comedy of errors began Monday morning when the Yes Men, supported by Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch, pre-empted Chevron's enormous new “We Agree” ad campaign with a satirical version of their own. The activists' version highlights Chevron's environmental and social abuses - the same abuses they say Chevron is attempting to “greenwash.”

“Chevron's super-expensive fake street art is a cynical attempt to gloss over the human rights abuses and environmental degradation that is the legacy of Chevron's operations in Ecuador, Nigeria, Burma and throughout the world,” said Ginger Cassady, a campaigner at Rainforest Action Network. “They must think we're stupid.”

“They say we're 'interrupting the dialogue,'” said Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men, referring to Chevron's terse condemnation. “What dialogue? Chevron's ad campaign is an insulting, confusing monologue - with many tens of millions of dollars behind it.”

The activists' pre-emptive campaign began early Monday with a press release from a spoof Chevron domain, which launched the fake “We Agree” site hours before the real Chevron could launch its own, real campaign The fake “We Agree” site featured four “improved” advertisements, complete with downloadable PDF files to be used in on-the-street postering.

Nine hours later, after issuing its own “We Agree” press release, the real Chevron decried the hoax in a predictably curt and humorless manner. Mere moments later, the counter-campaign issued a much better denial on Chevron's behalf, laying out Chevron's principal arguments in its Ecuador case. “We have binding agreements with the Ecuadorian Government exempting us from any liabilities whatsoever, granted in exchange for a $40 million cleanup of some wells by Texaco in the 1990s,” the spoof press release crowed, absurdly yet accurately.

Throughout the day, a sort of slow vaudeville unfolded on the web, as a number of press outlets, from industry mouthpieces to the AFP and even a watchdog group, produced accidental mash-ups of “real” and fake information.

First, Fast Company fell for the hoax (archived article here), then related their duping with humor. An outlet called “Environmental Leader,” quoted indiscriminately from both real and fake press releases, before quietly removing the fake parts a few hours later (original article archived here).

Shortly after that, Energy Digital, an online source providing “news and information for Energy Executives” (capitalization theirs), quoted extensively (archive here) from the fake release to describe Chevron's campaign, then mentioned that the campaign had “already been spoofed.” They didn't realize they'd just fallen for that very same spoof.

Even the AFP found itself duped (original article archived here). It described with glee the hoax “that appeared to have fooled some news outlets,” before going on to quote “the real firm” at length. (The “real firm” wasn't.)

Nor were industry watchdog groups immune. “Oil Watchdog” dissected the hoax minutely and accurately, before citing Advertising Age as one of the outlets duped. That whole article, however, was a fake.

“If you really want to snooker the media, it's pretty hard for them to resist,” said Mike Bonanno of the Yes Men. “We cobbled together some fake releases and websites with string and thumbtacks and chewing gum, and we fooled some of the most respectable press in the world.”

“Chevron is doing what we did, a million times over, with a ginormous budget - and it never reveals its subterfuge,” said Bichlbaum. “No wonder the media's full of lies.”

“Yesterday's spoof was a comedy of errors, but what's happening in Ecuador is no joke,” said Mitch Anderson, a campaigner at Amazon Watch. “While Chevron spends tens of millions every year to greenwash their image and fool the media, Ecuadorians continue to die from their toxic legacy."

Yesterday's hoax is just the beginning for the activists. “Stay tuned,” said RAN's Cassady. “There's a lot more to come in the days ahead. We're going to keep Chevron scrambling.”

Permalink 0 comments
By Laurel Whitney on Dec 29 2009 - 2:58pm Tagged: Canada, climate change, Copenhagen, UNFCCC, cease and desist letters Project: Canada freaks out the world

December 29, 2009

Canada Successfully Destroys Parody Websites
Climate policy remains deplorable

The government of Canada has used strong-arm tactics to shut down two parody websites criticizing Canada's poor environmental policy, taking down 4500 other websites in the process.

The two websites, "enviro-canada.ca" and "ec-gc.ca", are "directly connected to a hoax which misleads people into believing that the Government of Canada will take certain actions in relation to environmental matters," wrote Mike Landreville from Environment Canada in an email to the German Internet Service Provider (ISP) Serverloft.  "We trust you appreciate the importance of avoiding confusion among the public concerning Canadian governmental affairs and that you will assist us in preventing this hoax from spreading further."

In a remarkable overstepping of bounds, Landreville also asked the ISP to "make every effort to prevent any further attempts concerning other environment-related domains (enviro, ec-gc, etc.) originating from your servers."

In response to Environment Canada's request, Serverloft immediately turned off a whole block of IP addresses, knocking out more than 4500 websites that had nothing to do with the parody sites or the activists who created them. Serverloft was shown no warrant, and never called the web hosting company about the shutdown.

"We are sorry to see that the Canadian government will not 'take certain actions' that could help stave off catastrophic climate change," said Mike Bonanno of The Yes Men, one of the groups that performed the "sophisticated hoax" two weeks ago that involved the fake sites. "And we are also sorry to see that they don't care so much for free speech."

"Surely the Canadian government has better things to do than shut down thousands of websites, beg the US for photo opps, and berate NGOs for things they haven't done," said Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men. "They could instead figure out reasonable ways of responding to their growing legion of critics."

The websites that Canada shut down were part of an elaborate "identity correction" carried out by anonymous Canadian activists, the Climate Debt Agents of Action Aid, and The Yes Men. They used press releases and fake websites to announce that Canada would adopt science-based emission targets - reducing emissions by 40% over 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050 - and would pay the countries most impacted by climate change a proportional amount of the $600 billion total recommended by the United Nations to mitigate and adapt to climate change. They even used a replica of the UN conference center podium to show "Uganda" reacting with glee to the plan, before seeing their "tragic hopes" dashed.

Canada had prepared for just such an eventuality by creating a so-called "Climate Change War Room," a special office tasked with delivering rapid-response messaging to any negative media coverage around Canada's role at the Copenhagen climate change negotiations. Despite these efforts, last week's flurry of parody announcements, which the prime minister's office called a "childish prank," received enormous media attention across Canada and caused at least two embarrassing media moments for Canadian high officials.

Canada has been heavily criticized for its increasingly deplorable climate policy, and this year in Copenhagen was awarded the "Colossal Fossil" prize for worst behavior in the COP-15 negotiations. The group giving the award, the Climate Action Network, is a global coalition of more than 500 organizations working on climate change.

Permalink 0 comments
By Laurel Whitney on Dec 15 2009 - 12:00am Tagged: Canada, Copenhagen, climate change, UNFCCC, reveal release Project: Canada freaks out the world

Video at the bottom.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Copenhagen Spoof Shames Canada; Climate Debt No Joke
African, Danish and Canadian youth join the Yes Men to demand climate justice and skewer Canadian climate policy

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - "Canada is 'red-faced'!" (Globe and Mail) "Copenhagen spoof shames Canada!" (Guardian) "Hoax slices through Canadian spin on warming!" (The Toronto Star) "A childish prank!" (Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada)

What at first looked like the flip-flop of the century has been revealed as a sophisticated ruse by a coalition of African, North American, and European activists. The purpose: to highlight the most powerful nations' obstruction of meaningful progress in Copenhagen, to push for just climate debt reparations, and to call out Canada in particular for its terrible climate policy.

The elaborate intercontinental operation was spearheaded by a group of concerned Canadian citizens, the "Climate Debt Agents" from ActionAid, and The Yes Men. It involved the creation of a best-case scenario in which Canadian government representatives unleashed a bold new initiative to curb emissions and spearhead a "Climate Debt Mechanism" for the developing world.

The ruse started at 2:00 PM Monday, when journalists around the world were surprised to receive a press release from "Environment Canada" (enviro-canada.ca, a copy of ec.gc.ca) that claimed Canada was reversing its position on climate change.

In the release, Canada's Environment Minister, Jim Prentice, waxed lyrical. "Canada is taking the long view on the world economy," said Prentice. "Nobody benefits from a world in peril. Contributing to the development of other nations and taking full responsibilities for our emissions is simple Canadian good sense."

Thirty minutes later, the same "Environment Canada" sent out another press release, congratulating itself on Uganda's excited response to the earlier fake announcement. A video featuring an impassioned response by "Margaret Matembe," supposedly a COP15 delegate from Uganda, was embedded in a fake COP15 website. "Canada, until now you have blocked climate negotiations and refused to reduce emissions," said "Matembe." "Of course, you do sit on the world's second-largest oil reserve. But for us it isn't a mere economic issue - it's about drought, famine, and disease."

(The video was shot in a replica of the Bella Center's briefing room, at Frederiksholms Kanal 4, in the center of Copenhagen. Matembe was actually Kodili Chandia, a "Climate Debt Agent" from ActionAid, a collective of activists that push for rich countries to help those most affected by climate change for adaptation and mitigation projects. The "Climate Debt Agents," with their signature bright red suits, have been a ubiquitous presence in Copenhagen during the climate summit.)

Then it was time for Canada to react. One hour later, another "Environment Canada" (this one at ec-gc.ca) released a bombastic response to the original release. This one quoted Jim Prentice, Canada's Minister for the Environment, decrying the original announcement: "It is the height of cruelty, hypocrisy, and immorality to infuse with false hopes the spirit of people who are already, and will additionally, bear the brunt of climate change's terrible human effects. Canada deplores this moral misfire."

Because almost none of the resulting news coverage even mentioned Uganda or "Matembe's" response, a fourth release was sent from the second website (ec-gc.ca).

Meanwhile, in the real world

The real Canadian government's reactions were almost as strange as the fake ones in the release. Dimitri Soudas, a spokesperson for the Canadian Prime Minister, emailed reporters and blamed Steven Guilbeault, cofounder of Quebec-based Equiterre. "More time should be dedicated to playing a constructive role instead of childish pranks," said Soudas in a first email, while misspelling Guilbeault's name.

Guilbeault demanded an apology. "A better way to use his time would probably be to advise the Canadian government to change its deeply flawed position on climate," said Guilbeault. Soudas and Guilbeault were seen exchanging angry words in the hallway outside of Canada's 3:30pm press conference, which did not start until 4:30pm, and at which the Canadians refused to answer any questions about the flurry of false releases.

(Update: Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff has called for Soudas's dismissal over the incident.)

More raised voices were heard when Stephen Chu, the US Secretary of Energy, refused to pose for a photo with his Canadian counterpart, Jim Prentice. After Steve Kelly, Prentice's chief of staff, begged for 10 minutes, the US guy finally asked why a photo was so important. Kelly replied that "we were carpetbagged this morning by [environmental non-governmental organizations] with a false press release. I gotta change the story."

Why Blame Canada?

The only country in the world to have abandoned the Kyoto Protocol's emissions and climate debt targets, Canada also has the most energy-intensive, destructive and polluting oil reserves in the world. The Alberta tar sands, according to The Economist, are in fact the world's biggest single industrial source of carbon emissions.

"By not agreeing to emissions reductions, Canada is holding a loaded gun to our heads, and seems ready to pull the trigger on millions of us around the globe, " said Margaret Matembe aka Kodili Chandia of the "Climate Debt Agents." "They leave us no choice but to see them as criminal."

At last year's climate summit in Poznan, Poland, over 400 civil society organizations voted Canada worst of all nations in blocking progress towards a binding climate treaty. Will Canada take the dubious prize again this year in Copenhagen?

"The Canadian government is not listening to its citizens," says Sarah Ramsey, a resident of Alberta who has seen the destruction of the tar sands firsthand. Ramsey traveled to Copenhagen to give voice to a generation of young Canadians. "We are discouraged and demoralized by our government's position on climate change. We decided to lend our government a hand, and show them what good leadership looks like."

In solidarity with the delegates from the G77 Bloc of nations, today's intervention was also meant to highlight an issue at the heart of the ongoing talks—the issue of climate justice, and the climate debt that the developed world owes the developing world. Seventy-five percent of the historical emissions that created the climate crisis came from 20% of the world's population in developed countries, according to the UN, yet up to 80% of the impacts of the climate crisis are experienced in the developing world, according to the World Bank.

"I meant every word I said," says Kodili Chandia, a spokesperson for the Climate Debt Agents, who spoke out as a member of the Ugandan delegation. "This debate isn't just about facts and figures and abstract concepts of fairness—the drought we are seeing right now in East Africa is directly threatening the lives of millions of people, including farmers in my own family. We have not created this problem but we are living with the consequences. That's why I still say: It's time for rich countries to pay their climate debt."

(Hi-res download)

Permalink 0 comments
By Andy Bichlbaum on Oct 28 2009 - 2:06pm Tagged: reveal release, chamber Project: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Goes Green

"We've finally made it," says Andy Bichlbaum (aka Hingo Sembra) of the Yes Men. "We're officially part of the the Extreme Left-Wing Agenda.

"At least that's what you'll learn if you click through to the Google ads keyed to the phrase 'Yes Men' that have popped up overnight steering people to a fundraising page for the Chamber. Or if you received the email solicitation they sent out to their supporters, claiming 'we're under attack,' a message which also directs to a fundraising page.

"We can see why they might need those funds: after all, this year alone they've already spent a mind-boggling $50+ million on lobbying fees. But it's still pretty ironic that the Chamber would ask for money for its effort to punish criticism, given that they are so publicly opposed to frivolous lawsuits and publicly in support of free speech.

"The Chamber complains that we've misled the public. But the Chamber misleads the public every day when it claims to speak for 3 million business, effectively masquerading as a populist lobbying organization - when a closer look reveals it represents barely a tenth of that. In fact, the Chamber repeated that debatable number in the press release sent out announcing the lawsuit against us. Now that's chutzpa!

"Bragging about their size is only the tip of the iceberg, of course. Among many other things, the Chamber routinely undermines American democracy by spending millions to oppose sane climate legislation, health care reform, and employee free choice - not to mention so-called 'grassroots' campaigns to kill banking regulations on derivatives trading. That's right: the Chamber is lobbying to prop up the same system that left the American economy in a shambles.

"No wonder 63% of Americans distrust the news: powerful business lobbies and their massively funded PR campaigns are subverting the media every day, expensively and effectively, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. It's shameful that the Chamber has decided to lash out at a public interest group like ours for trying to push back and call attention to the Chamber's outrageous positions."

Permalink 0 comments
By Andy Bichlbaum on Oct 23 2009 - 10:39am Tagged: Project: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Goes Green

UPDATE (5pm, Oct. 23): Chamber uses Yes Men hoax to raise money! Seriously. Not a joke (apparently).

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, October 23, 2009 - 2pm

EFF release: www.eff.org/press/archives/2009/10/22
Wired article: wired.com
Contact: people@theyesmen.org, info@mayfirst.org, 347-675-0953 (Alfredo Lopez)

US Chamber Shuts off TheYesMen.org and Websites of Hundreds of Other Activist Groups
Free Speech, Free Commerce Threatened by "Free Trade" Champion

Hundreds of activist organizations had their internet service turned off last night after the US Chamber of Commerce strong-armed an upstream provider, Hurricane Electric, to pull the plug on The Yes Men and May First / People Link, a 400-member-strong organization with a strong commitment to protecting free speech.

"This is a blow against free speech, and it demostrates in gory detail the full hypocrisy of the Chamber," said Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men. "The only freedom they care about is the economic freedom of large corporations to operate free of the hassles of science, reality, and democracy."

After suffering embarrassment at the hands of the Yes Men on Monday, the Chamber immediately threatened legal action, then followed through Thursday by sending a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice to Hurricane Electric Internet Services. In the DMCA notice, the Chamber claimed that the parody Chamber website operated by The Yes Men constituted copyright infringement, and demanded that the site be shut down immediately and that the creator's service be canceled.

But the Yes Men are not served directly by Hurricane Electric, but by May First / People Link. And when Hurricane Electric shut down the fake Chamber of Commerce site (now relocated), they also took down the websites of 400 other organizations.

May First / People Link fought back. They immediately "mirrored" the site, and then quickly negotiated with Hurricane Electric to restore service to their other members.

"The DMCA attacks the critically important right we have to effectively comment and criticize institutions and companies," said May First/People Link Co-Director Alfredo Lopez. "It's an undemocratic, backwards law, a perfect example of how the government shouldn't intrude on our lives. But the Chamber was perfectly happy to use it to stomp on the Yes Men's rights to free spech, and the rights of hundreds of other organizations to operate on the web."

The 400 May First / People Link members weren't the only victims of the Chamber's action on Thursday. Today is the start of the national release of the Yes Men's new film, The Yes Men Fix the World. The film is being released in a number of independent theaters - who, not being part of a chain, are heavily dependent on the Yes Men website for selling tickets to the film. The Chamber's actions thus impinge on the ability of these small businesses to turn a profit.

"The Chamber claims to represent 3 million businesses of every size, yet their actions undermined a fair number of small businesses," said Mike Bonanno of the Yes Men. "The Chamber is clearly much less interested in actual freedom, economic or otherwise, than in the license of their largest members to operate free from the scientific consensus." (The Chamber has opposed or refused to endorse a climate bill, the absurdity of which the Yes Men's Monday action was designed to highlight.)

This isn't the first time a Yes Men site has found itself targeted by a DMCA complaint brought by a large corporation. The Yes Men have in the past received DMCA notices from Exxon, Dow Chemical, DeBeers, and the New York Times. In each case, the the Yes Men (represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation) refused to comply, and prevailed. Even the George W. Bush campaign sent a complaint to try to interrupt service to GWBush.com, in 2000, resulting in extensive ridicule that culminated in Bush's mind-boggling gaffe that "There ought to be limits to freedom."

 

Permalink 0 comments
By Andy Bichlbaum on Oct 19 2009 - 2:04pm Tagged: reveal release, chamber of commerce Project: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Goes Green

Monday, October 19, 2009, 4 PM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WILL THE REAL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE PLEASE STAND UP?
Business as usual; Chamber is its own parody

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In a dramatic announcement at the National Press Club today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reversed its position on climate change policy, and promised to immediately cease lobbying against the Kerry-Boxer bill.

Not.

Within minutes of the Chamber's dramatic announcement, it was revealed that the "Chamber spokesperson" was an impostor, and the press conference an elaborate hoax designed by activists to draw attention to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's "troglodytic" fight against climate change legislation. At the close of the news conference, a visibly rattled Chamber of Commerce spokesperson (Eric Wohlschlegel) barged into the room and declared the event a fraud. (Video here.)

The stunt was pulled off by the Yes Men, the activists best known for posing as corporate executives in order to reveal how corporate greed negatively influences public policy. Recently, the Yes Men have focused their attention on the urgent need for action on climate change. Today they sought to highlight relentless corporate lobbying of elected officials aimed at derailing domestic climate legislation and a much-needed global climate accord.

The group of reporters at the Press Club listened closely as U.S. Chamber "representative" "Hingo Sembra" (Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men) asserted that the Chamber would put its full weight behind supporting the Kerry-Boxer bill, while working with Senators Kerry and Boxer to strengthen the bill.

"We believe that climate legislation currently being considered by the U.S. Senate is a great start towards a bill that will spur American innovation, create jobs, and give us all a good chance of survival," he said. To the visible delight of reporters in the audience, he added, "We at the Chamber have tried to keep climate science from interfering with business. But without a stable climate, there will be no business."

The Chamber has recently come under fire for launching multi-million dollar advertising campaigns designed to derail climate negotiations. Their position has been so controversial that Apple, Exelon, PNM Resources, PG&E, PSEG, Levi Strauss & Co, and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce have all left the U.S. Chamber, and Nike very publicly stepped down from the board.

"The Chamber's position against climate legislation is completely troglodytic," said Bichlbaum. "The rest of the world sees the need for urgent action on the climate. The rest of the world's rich countries have pledged large emissions reductions. With scientists saying if we don't reduce carbon emissions, then sooner or later we're doomed, the Chamber represents corporate America at its most backwards."

"An entity claiming to represent the public good, but that opposes action on the climate, is obviously illegitimate," Bichlbaum added.

News outlets were quick to jump on the story, including a Reuters story which was reprinted in the New York Times and elsewhere. The Chamber's "about-face" was also reported on Fox Business Network and CNBC before the anchors were forced to retract in mid-sentence.

At the end of Sembra's remarks, Eric Wohlschlegel confronted Bichlbaum. In the stand-off, both accused the other of being a fraud. The standoff ended with Wohlschlegel dispensing his business card to reporters in the room, and attempting to field a number of pointed questions about the Chamber's real stance on climate legislation currently in Congress, which the real Chamber opposes. (Video here.)

"Mr. Wohlschlegel was feeling defensive," added Bichlbaum. "He should, what with the Chamber's ridiculous stance in the face of all science."

International climate talks are currently stalled, largely because the U.S. negotiators won't make any promises that Congress can't keep. Breaking the gridlock in negotiations will require the passage of ambitious U.S. legislation within the next 2 months.

An official response from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce read: "These irresponsible tactics are a foolish distraction from the serious effort by our nation to reduce greenhouse gases."

"The only irresponsibility and distraction here is the Chamber's doublespeak," said Bichlbaum. "They're pretending to support the idea of legislation while opposing actual proposed legislation."

The Yes Men collaborated on this action with activists from BeyondTalk.net, the "Climate Pledge of Resistance," which calls on citizens to risk arrest in the interest of creating pressure for sane climate legislation, and received tactical support from the DC Climate Action Factory, a semi-autonomous group of climate activists sponsored by Avaaz.org.

The Yes Men will be holding a rally tomorrow at 10:30am on the Capitol lawn, northeast corner (across from the Dirksen Senate Office Building), to kick off the 350.org Day of Climate Action by showcasing a fleet of SurvivaBalls, an alternate solution to climate change that protects America's most valuable citizens from the ravages of climate change.

 

See also:

UPDATE: Chamber of Commerce knocks out entire Mayfirst hosting company over Chamber-of-Commerce.us
UPDATE #2: Chamber uses Yes Men hoax to raise money! Seriously. Not a joke (apparently).
UPDATE #3: Chamber of Commerce sues the Yes Men (also apparently not a joke)
UPDATE #4: Chamber cries uncle, drops lawsuit

Permalink 0 comments

Pages

Subscribe to Blog