Why the Hacktivists Are Winning - A blog by Christine Arena

Oct 28, 2010 3:22 PM ET

Why the Hacktivists Are Winning

How do you hijack corporate culture, demoralize employees and derail multi-million dollar marketing campaigns? All too easily, it turns out.

Fueled by the internet and the public’s growing distain for corporate greed, hacktivism is a trend on the rise. Today’s hacktivists use increasingly clever tactics in order to elevate public debate about the way corporations do business. In more cases than not, they succeed.

“What we do—and what you can do too—is impersonate captains of industry, infiltrate corporate events, give absurd and revealing presentations, and then escape to tell the story in the press, hopefully to the great embarrassment of the target,” say the Yes Men, a group of hacktivists that recently punked the likes of Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Halliburton, Dow, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the United Nations, among others. “You don’t have to be a James Bond for this. But what you might need is a fake email address and a business card.”

Armed with little other than a fake business card, letterhead and a masterfully worded news release, the Yes Men made a big point 2009 after a U.S. Chamber of Commerce “representative”  dramatically announced during a National Press Club event that the Chamber would be changing its position on climate change policy.

“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,” the forged news release said. “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 hoax circulated virally on You Tube and mainstream television, calling public attention to the growing number of corporations – including Nike, Apple, Exelon, PNM Resources, PG&E, PSEG and Levi Strauss & Co –  that had distanced themselves from the Chamber as a result of its conservative stance on climate change. But rather than publicly confront deeper issues and heed to the demands of its forward-thinking members, the Chamber filed a lawsuit against Yes Men and insisted that all videos of the hoax event be suppressed.

Perhaps Chevron will decide go the same way. Just last week the Yes Men targeted the company’s glossy new “We Agree” ad campaign with a satirical version of their own. Whereas Chevron’s campaign asks rhetorical questions like: “Should oil companies support the communities they work in?” and “Do oil companies need to get real?” Yes Men’s questions dig deeper and call attention to the company’s controversial past.

continue reading