PC for All proudly presents: Trolltider, an article series that addresses 20 of the funniest, wackiest, and most bizarre online scams the world has ever seen. During May, you will find an online scam every weekday on our site.
Not everyone who spreads untruths online is out to anger or create pointless attention, as many of the sites we wrote about earlier in the series did. The duo The Yes Men, for example, set up fake websites for political purposes. They also do another thing that few internet trolls can do: They continue their trolling IRL (in real life).
The group’s masterpiece took place in 2005 and began with them setting up a website purporting to belong to global chemical giant Dow Chemicals. Dow Chemicals is the owner of the infamous Union Carbide – a company forever associated with one of the worst industrial accidents in world history: On the night of December 3, 1984, the company’s pesticide factory in Bhopal, India released 42 tons of methyl isocyanate. Half a million people were exposed, of whom an estimated 8,000 died in the first week and another 200,000 ended up needing lifelong care – resources not immediately abundant in the impoverished state of Madhya Pradesh.
The reason for the disaster is unclear, but investigations have made it clear that the handling of the chemicals was exemplary, the staff poorly trained and the factory cut to the breaking point. Union Carbide claimed that it was sabotage and disclaimed all responsibility.
The BBC makes a mistake
Just in time for the 20th anniversary of the disaster, The Yes Men took the opportunity to post a press release on their fake Dow Chemicals site, which claimed that the company still had no plans to accept responsibility for the spill – which is entirely consistent with Dow Chemical’s actual position, although they hardly chose to report this in a similar way. The BBC World news channel then made the mistake of mistaking the fake website for the real thing, called the number on there and asked if a Dow Chemicals spokesman wanted to comment on the incident in a news report. He wanted to.
Of course, no real spokesperson came to the BBC studio, but one half of The Yes Men, Andy Bichlbaum, under his alter ego as Dow representative, “Jude Finisterra”. On air, he made a complete poodle, and told that Dow Chemical’s management now thought about the situation, realized their responsibility and decided to liquidate Union Carbide and set aside twelve billion dollars to clean up the factory area, give the vulnerable medical help and start an institute for to research the risks surrounding the group’s other products.
The hoax created enormous attention worldwide, for two hours. Then the real Dow Chemicals issued a denial. But this only led to even more attention, and by the end of the day, Dow Chemical’s shares had dropped in value by a good two billion dollars.