Published on Aug 25, 2010
For years I’ve been a fan of the Yes Men and the outrageous impersonation stunts they have deployed to (in their words) publicly humiliate leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else. In October last year, for example, they staged a hoax press conference, claiming to represent the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and pretending to announce that the business lobby group was dropping its aggressive opposition to the climate change legislation working its way through Congress. The event, complete with fake handouts on chamber letterhead, at least a couple of fake reporters, and a podium adorned with the chamber logo, broke up when a spokesman from the real chamber burst in and proceeded to confront the impostors on stage.
Now, it seems that climate change activists convening for a climate camp in Edinburgh have suffered their own humiliation of sorts. Twitter prankers impersonating activists posted a flood of spoof messages to the #climatecamp hashtag throughout the day, lampooning the protestors for their middle-class demographic, among other things.
Of course, social media provides a powerful tool for activists who can now find out pertinent information, inform others and self-organize around issues faster and more effectively than ever before. As Guardian writer James Randerson points out, no self-respecting NGO and campaign group would be seen these days without a Twitter account to spread the word (Greenpeace,Friends of the Earth and WWF have over 200,000 followers between them, he notes). But the incident on Twitter also reveals the degree to which activists are vulnerable when the same tools they rely on to inform and mobilize the public can be used to subvert their message and/or disrupt important gatherings. Just as the Yes Men can ridicule the powerful, it seems the powerful and their sympathizers are becoming wise to the ways and means that have so often been used against them.