Corporations are inventing people to rubbish their opponents on the internet

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  1. Ilena Rose

    Ilena Rose Guest,7369,715159,00.html

    The fake persuaders

    Corporations are inventing people to rubbish their opponents
    on the internet

    George Monbiot Tuesday May 14, 2002 The Guardian

    Persuasion works best when it's invisible. The most
    effective marketing worms its way into our consciousness,
    leaving intact the perception that we have reached our
    opinions and made our choices independently. As old as
    humankind itself, over the past few years this approach has
    been refined, with the help of the internet, into a
    technique called "viral marketing". Last month, the viruses
    appear to have murdered their host. One of the world's
    foremost scientific journals was persuaded to do something
    it had never done before, and retract a paper it had
    published. While, in the past, companies have created fake
    citizens' groups to campaign in favour of trashing forests
    or polluting rivers, now they create fake citizens. Messages
    purporting to come from disinterested punters are planted on
    listservers at critical moments, disseminating misleading
    information in the hope of recruiting real people to the
    cause. Detective work by the campaigner Jonathan Matthews
    and the freelance journalist Andy Rowell shows how a PR firm
    contracted to the biotech company Monsanto appears to have
    played a crucial but invisible role in shaping scientific

    Monsanto knows better than any other corporation the costs
    of visibility. Its clumsy attempts, in 1997, to persuade
    people that they wanted to eat GM food all but destroyed the
    market for its crops. Determined never to make that mistake
    again, it has engaged the services of a firm which knows how
    to persuade without being seen to persuade. The Bivings
    Group specialises in internet lobbying.

    An article on its website, entitled Viral Marketing: How to
    Infect the World, warns that "there are some campaigns where
    it would be undesirable or even disastrous to let the
    audience know that your organisation is directly involved...
    it simply is not an intelligent PR move. In cases such as
    this, it is important to first 'listen' to what is being
    said online... Once you are plugged into this world, it is
    possible to make postings to these outlets that present your
    position as an uninvolved third party... Perhaps the
    greatest advantage of viral marketing is that your message
    is placed into a context where it is more likely to be
    considered seriously." A senior executive from Monsanto is
    quoted on the Bivings site thanking the PR firm for its
    "outstanding work".

    On November 29 last year, two researchers at the University
    of California, Berkeley published a paper in Nature
    magazine, which claimed that native maize in Mexico had been
    contaminated, across vast distances, by GM pollen. The paper
    was a disaster for the biotech companies seeking to persuade
    Mexico, Brazil and the European Union to lift their embargos
    on GM crops.

    Even before publication, the researchers knew their work was
    hazardous. One of them, Ignacio Chapela, was approached by
    the director of a Mexican corporation, who first offered him
    a glittering research post if he withheld his paper, then
    told him that he knew where to find his children. In the US,
    Chapela's opponents have chosen a different form of

    Advertiser links World Vision - Child Charity Sponsor a
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    month, you can make a difference in the life... On the day the paper was published, messages
    started to appear on a biotechnology listserver used by more
    than 3,000 scientists, called AgBioWorld. The first came
    from a correspondent named "Mary Murphy". Chapela is on the
    board of directors of the Pesticide Action Network, and
    therefore, she claimed, "not exactly what you'd call an
    unbiased writer". Her posting was followed by a message from
    an "Andura Smetacek", claiming, falsely, that Chapela's
    paper had not been peer-reviewed, that he was "first and
    foremost an activist" and that the research had been
    published in collusion with environmentalists. The next day,
    another email from "Smetacek" asked "how much money does
    Chapela take in speaking fees, travel reimbursements and
    other donations... for his help in misleading fear-based
    marketing campaigns?"

    The messages from Murphy and Smetacek stimulated hundreds of
    others, some of which repeated or embellished the
    accusations they had made. Senior biotechnologists called
    for Chapela to be sacked from Berkeley. AgBioWorld launched
    a petition pointing to the paper's "fundamental flaws".

    There do appear to be methodological problems with the
    research Chapela and his colleague David Quist had
    published, but this is hardly unprecedented in a scientific
    journal. All science is, and should be, subject to challenge
    and disproof. But in this case the pressure on Nature was so
    severe that its editor did something unparalleled in its 133-
    year history: last month he published, alongside two papers
    challenging Quist and Chapela's, a retraction in which he
    wrote that their research should never have been published.

    So the campaign against the researchers was extraordinarily
    successful; but who precisely started it? Who are "Mary
    Murphy" and "Andura Smetacek"?

    Both claim to be ordinary citizens, without any corporate
    links. The Bivings Group says it has "no knowledge of them".
    "Mary Murphy" uses a hotmail account for posting messages to
    AgBioWorld. But a message satirising the opponents of
    biotech, sent by "Mary Murphy" from the same hotmail account
    to another server two years ago, contains the identification is the property of Bivings
    Woodell, which is part of the Bivings Group.

    When I wrote to her to ask whether she was employed by
    Bivings and whether Mary Murphy was her real name, she
    replied that she had "no ties to industry". But she
    refused to answer my questions on the grounds that "I can
    see by your articles that you made your mind up long ago
    about biotech". The interesting thing about this response
    is that my message to her did not mention biotechnology. I
    told her only that I was researching an article about
    internet lobbying.

    Smetacek has, on different occasions, given her address as
    "London" and "New York". But the electoral rolls, telephone
    directories and credit card records in both London and the
    entire US reveal no "Andura Smetacek". Her name appears only
    on AgBioWorld and a few other listservers, on which she has
    posted scores of messages falsely accusing groups such as
    Greenpeace of terrorism. My letters to her have elicited no
    response. But a clue to her possible identity is suggested
    by her constant promotion of "the Centre For Food and
    Agricultural Research". The centre appears not to exist,
    except as a website, which repeatedly accuses greens of
    plotting violence. is registered to someone called
    Manuel Theodorov. Manuel Theodorov is the "director of
    associations" at Bivings Woodell.

    Even the website on which the campaign against the paper in
    Nature was launched has attracted suspicion. Its moderator,
    the biotech enthusiast Professor CS Prakash, claims to have
    no connection to the Bivings Group. But when Jonathan
    Matthews was searching the site's archives he received the
    following error message: "can't connect to MySQL server on". is the main server
    of the Bivings Group.

    "Sometimes," Bivings boasts, "we win awards. Sometimes only
    the client knows the precise role we played." Sometimes, in
    other words, real people have no idea that they are being
    managed by fake ones.



    For related articles, please visit:

  2. From: [email protected] (Sweth Chandramouli)
    Date: Wed, 29 May 1996 18:32:56 -0400
    Organization: Bivings Woodell, Inc.
    Message-ID: <[email protected]>

    Since I haven't seen anything of the sort elsewhere on
    the web, and since I for one have recently thought that
    it would be useful if something of this sort existed, I'm
    going to try to set up a online research/thesis index--a
    list of the locations of as many studies, theses,
    academic papers, etc., that are currently online as I can
    compile. If you currently have such a document online and
    would like it included in the list, please let me know.
    All submitted entries _must_ include the following
    information: the author of the document, the title of the
    document, a valid url that points to the document, and
    the category under which the document should be indexed
    (see below). Also requested, but not necessary, are an
    abstract (under 3K in length, please) and a publication/posting/last-
    revision date. The index will hopefully be searchable
    (hopefully a search engine can be implemented, and
    hopefully there will be enough of a response that there
    will be a need for one), by title, date, etc., and also
    by category. The categories will, I think, be organized
    in hierarchies similar to usenet or to the yahoo system--
    e.g. sci (chemistry), sci (physics), sci(misc), psych,
    linguistics, etc. For now at least, put whatever category
    you want in the entry, and I'll compile the final
    category list based on that (there's no point in creating
    sci(astronomy) if no relevant docs are indexed, for
    example). Until the actual index goes up (which will
    happen as soon as I get enough entries to make it worthwhile--
    I've already found a place to host
    it), submissions should be sent to me via e-mail at
    <[email protected]> with the words "online index"
    somewhere in the subject line; there should be a form on
    the page itself for submissions after that.. Everyone who
    submits a doc to be indexed will be notified of the url
    of the index when it goes up; the url will also be posted
    to the appropriate announce newsgroups only.

    --sweth. <[email protected]> <[email protected]>

    <[email protected]> [email protected]
    From: Katinka van der Jagt ([email protected])
    Subject: labor/industry "sustainability agreement"
    This is the only article in this thread
    View: Original Format
    Newsgroups: alt.society.labor-unions
    Date: 1997/03/27

    I am writing to to inform participants
    of the important labor/industry "sustainability agreement" that recently
    occurred in the global chlorine industry.

    Following a two-day forum in early March, the International
    Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers=92 Unions (ICEM)=

    and the Chlorine Chemistry Council (CCC) agreed to cooperate in joint
    efforts to ensure the sustainability of the global chlorine industry,
    and to ensure that sound, unbiased science forms the basis of all
    decisions affecting the future of the industry. It is estimated that
    chlorine-related industries provide some five million jobs worldwide and
    direct capital investments in the hundreds of billions of dollars. =

    The ICEM is a global industrial trade union federation representing more
    than 20 million workers worldwide in the chemicals, energy,
    environmental services, mining and process industries. The CCC, a
    business council of the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA), is
    comprised of manufacturers and users of chlorine and chlorine-based
    products, and other organizations with an interest in chlorine

    For more information, or to view the full story, see
    From: P. Hurston ([email protected])Subject: RE: Tap Water/Miscarriages
    This is the only article in this thread View: Original Format Newsgroups: 1998/02/12 I think there are a couple of very key
    points getting lost in this

    First, tap water in the U.S. is the safest in the world. The critical
    issue to remember is that chlorinated drinking water is absolutely
    necessary to protect public health from a wide range of infectious
    diseases. According to the World Health Organization "disinfection by
    chlorine is still the best guarantee of microbiologically safe water."
    Current knowledge and experiences indicate that the real risk of
    waterborne diseases far outweighs any potential risk from trace amounts
    of disinfection by-products to which people are exposed in drinking

    Second, it is worth noting that the very researchers who conducted the
    study have said that the results are preliminary and they have urged
    women not to switch to bottled water if they do not already drink it
    because it isn't necessarily better. Shanna Swan, chief of epidemiology
    at the California Department of Health Services, said in an interview
    that women should not switch to bottled water becasue it isn't regulated
    as closely as tap water. EPA has also said that more research is needed
    before any conclusions can be made.

    Rules are being finalized by the EPA now that will further reduce
    disinfection by-products without compromising effective water

    But, certainly, pregnant women concerned about the study should consult
    with their physicians.Search Result 26
    From: PHurston ([email protected])
    Subject: Chlorine
    View: Complete Thread (66 articles)
    Original Format
    Date: 1997/09/11

    To follow up on a recent discussion of chlorine and disinfection, those
    interested might want to take a look at or

    Here you can find a number of press releases and statements as well as
    scientific and technical papers relating to the beneficial uses of
    chlorine in water treatment and disinfection. Both pools and drinking
    water. For the latest news, see Result 76
    From: Patrick Hurston ([email protected])Subject: Chlorine Chemistry
    Council This is the only article in this thread View: Original Format
    Newsgroups: rec.backcountryDate: 1996/05/20 For all those who followed the
    chlorine thread last month, thought you
    would want to know that the Chlorine Chemistry Council is now on the
    web at

    Its got info. on science, products and processes that enhance our
    quality of life, economics, environmental protection, a document
    library, news, and curriculum resources.Search Result 82 From: Patrick
    Hurston ([email protected])Subject: Chemical Web Site This is the only
    article in this thread View: Original Format Newsgroups: sci.engr.chemDate:
    1996/04/16 I thought that the members of this list might be interested to
    that Eka Nobel know has a web site, located at

    Eka Nobel is a global leader in technology licensing and the
    manufacture of bleaching, paper, and recycled fiber chemicals.

    The site allows visitors to take self-guided tours of the company, its
    products, services, and vision of for the future.Search Result 90 From:
    Sweth Chandramouli ([email protected])Subject: Internet Opportunities This
    is the only article in this thread View: Original Format Newsgroups:
    dc.general, 1996/02/02 Bivings Woodell, Inc., a
    Washington, D.C.-based firm specializing in
    Risk Communications and Controversy Management, is looking for
    participants in its "Digital Focus"--a focus group of young, highly
    intelligent, technologically savvy people, who will participate in
    regularly-scheduled discussions, seminars, presentations, and forums about
    the uses (both practical and potential) of cutting edge technology in the
    workplace. Participants (who will be compensated for their time and
    effort) are desired from a wide range of backgrounds; the forum would
    ideally include both participants with formal technical experience (e.g.
    college students with Computer Science backgrounds) and those with more
    informal training (e.g. self-taught "Internet junkies").
    If you are interested in joining Digital Focus, please contact Sweth
    Chandramouli by e-mail at <[email protected]> by February 15, 1996.