Thursday, July 19, 2012

Shell Shocked

So yesterday, the Shell Corporation (or Royal Dutch Shell, I guess, even though it is neither Royal nor Dutch) was the victim of a reasonably elaborate hoax. In a nutshell (ha!), activists (Greenpeace and the Yes Men) created a fake Shell web site to make it seem like Shell was allowing individuals to make their own ads or memes with stock photos and their logo. Shell had nothing to do with it, of course, but activists then went to the fake site that they created themselves and made offensive and satirical ads and sent them to others. Then, they used a fake Twitter account to publicly and loudly get people to stop sharing the fake ads on the fake web site, making the Shell PR department seem like they were not only technologically backwards but also completely out of control of their own internal employees.

Except, of course, they weren't.

I'm not sure what I think about this. I'm a respect-the-rules sort of person and I don't abide childish pranks once you stop being a child. I find most corporate activism like this does nothing more than titillate those already converted to your side and piss off your opponents, and in the crossfire are decent human beings just trying to do their job.

And yet there's a part of me that's glad things like this happen. Especially in the corporate world, it isn't necessarily a bad thing to rattle people's cages. Not only do things like this serve as warning rockets to what could happen--and allow a company to better prepare themselves for future hoaxes--but it sometimes offers new and fresh perspective on an idea or demographic. A company that is forced to react to bad PR can sometimes shine a light on legitimate issues, even if the focus of the activism itself is not based on logic.

Of course, the problem is that particular lack of logic, and it's the sort of thing that activists are generally guilty of. Activists truly feel like they are doing the right thing when they hack a web site or tear down a distribution network. Instead of bringing converts over to their cause, however, they just end up ruining people's careers and slashing people's paychecks, and these people who are most affected probably had very little to do with the problem in the first place. The only effect for their cause is that it makes themselves feel like they've "done something." It's a selfish act that rarely has any intended effect at all, and their organization ends up just looking like a bunch of pricks.

It's also quite likely that the activists themselves are hypocrites. Often, activists will hide behind the claim that, no matter what, if you draw a salary from an oil/chemical/drug/etc. company, you're part of the problem and deserve to suffer the consequences. If you work in payroll or clean the cubicles of an oil company and your Christmas bonus just got halved yet you have nothing to do with drilling oil, is that person any more guilty than an activist that increases the demand for oil by using it any capacity at all?

The Pledge: So I guess I sort of have a lame justification for corporate activism. I like it in moderation where no one gets hurt, which sort of defeats the purpose of activism in the first place. So just man up and do something respectable with your lives, okay, Greenpeace/Yes Men/PETA? You're not getting theater credits anymore for your community college course.

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