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nettime: Report on Amsterdam, part 2
Eveline Lubbers on Wed, 22 May 96 10:05 MDT

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nettime: Report on Amsterdam, part 2

Report on Amsterdam, part 2

The Launch of McSpotlight

The second story I want to tell you is about the anti-McDonald's
campaign and the supportive role Internet plays in the struggle
against the Hamburger King.
To fully understand the meaning McSpotlight - the most beautiful
and accessible site I've ever seen, presenting all the
information surrounding the campaign and the McLibel Trial -
first a bit of background. 

The McLibel Trial, which has pitted the mighty McDonald's
Corporation against two unwaged environmental activists is
something very special and unique itself. 
In 1990, London Greenpeace (a small campaigning group not related to
Greenpeace International) was sued for libel by McDonald's. Instead of
backing off, Helen Steel and Dave Morris accepted the challenge and
went to court. Now they are successfully defending every single line
of their critical leaflet, cross-examining scientists and McDonalds
officials and winning at points in the London High Court. The trial
celebrates its second anniversary this summer and is due to continue
until November. The activists, nicknamed the McLibel Two, found
themselves a new stage to critizise McDonalds in a more detailed way
than they could ever have dreamed of. It is one of the best examples
of using the courtroom as stage: here the facts can truly speak for
themselves and McDonald's legal action backfires completely. 

Internet was involved from the very beginning. Since the start
of the trial, in June 1994, extracts from the transcripts of the
hearings were being published on the Net, and McDonald's didn't
like it at all. The case was becoming the biggest public relation
disaster in the corporate history. Just after the trial celebrated
it's first birthday, McDonald's tried to reach a settlement with the
defendants - the company had had enough and wanted out. When the
parties couldn't get to any kind of agreement, McDonald's choose the
strategy of obstruction. I find it extremely significant that their
first target was the publishing of the protocols. McDonald's had made
an agreement at the beginning of the trial, that they would pay 300
pounds a day to have the transcripts of each day in Court ready by
seven in the evening. (To wait for the Courts Office to do this would
take three weeks.) Until day 156, the court and the McLibel 2 each got
a free copy. Then it stopped. McDonald's wanted the Defendants to
promise that they would only use the transcripts themselves. 'What it
would prevent, and this is what this is all about, is their
disseminating it (any transcript extract) to journalists and the
McLibel Suport Campaign and similar like-minded', said McDonald's QC
Richard Rampton. Not to mention, putting them on the Net. The
defendants started a fund-raising campaign in order to pay the 300
pounds to get each day's transcripts.

Before McSpotlight, there also was the McLibel mailing list.
Already a big success. Campaigners from anywhere keep each other
up-to-date with all of the activities in the world-wide Anti-
McDonald's campaign. The McLibel Trial became the virtual centre
of targeting the Hamburger King. Suburbians against McDrives,
loothers in Kopenhagen, Ghandi-inspired Fins discussing with
their local McDonald, India against the invasion of McDonalds -
all connected through Internet. 
The mailing list is yet another excellent example of Internet
adding a certain value to a campaign. The list connects otherwise
relatively isolated protesters of all kinds. Internet helps to create
a movement on a global scale. People who act in their own environment
and with their own means, realize that their activities are part of a
larger context. (Do I sound holistic here? please not!) Could the
postman do the same? No, not really. Time delays, and the lack of
direct contact would be frustrating. The advantages of being able to
react immediately, and to support & advise people all over the world
for the price of a local phone call, are immeasurable for campaigns
such as this one. 

There is no doubt that McDonald's underestimated their opponent.
The sueing of London Greenpeace backfired, but I'm sure they had
never expected anything like McSpotlight...
A WWW-site with all the information about the longest running
civil case in Britain ever, and more. Complete with an audio
Guided Tour narrated by the McLibel 2, taking visitors round the
key pages on the site - the case, the company, the circulum vitae of
all the people involved in the trial and the coverage in the media. I
particular like the cartoon section! The issues treated in Court are
being dug out to the bottom: * Nutrition - Can a diet high in
saturated fat and sugar lead to heart disease and cancer? *
Advertising - Are children being manipulated by advertising? *
McDonald's International Expansion - Where will they invade next? *
Employment - Environment - Are McDonald's responsible for damage to
rainforests? * Animals - Recycling & Waste - Multinationals and Global
Trade, * Freedom of Speech/Libel laws - Capitialism & the
Alternatives. Their are so many links, and possibilities, and yet the
site is so well organized and accesable. And so very well
designed....I still get impressed, everytime I pay a visit. The brand
new 'Debating Room' is another Internet innovation to be found on
McSpotlight. It is essentially a moderated discussion group within the
website that means that any visitor can take part in the discussion
about the campaign against McDonald's.

A very good idea is the Campaign section which offers groups from all
over the world to present themselves and their material. Translations
of current Anti-McDonald's leaflet can be printed out in any desired
language, what a service! This service is something of the categorie
'added value', you could call it an Internet speciality. In
combination with all the information McSpotlight provides, it is the
first worldwide activist manual. Facts and figures available, as well
as a platform for publicity and support from all over the world. It
makes campaigning against McDonald's not only pretty easy, but also
very attractive. Not to mention the surplus of the site as an easy way
to keep the public and the press informed about what's happening in
Court. The media coverage of McSpotlight was overwelming, and is still
going on. USA Today, Times of India, Chicago Tribune, Stern, Channel
4, BBC, the Guardian, Daily Mail etcetera. Only four weeks after its
launch McSpotlight celebrated its millionth visitor - including 2000
from McDonalds.com in the first week. McDonald's decided against
taking action to try to ban the site initially, but apparently had
second thoughts. In April they filed a plaintiff (added to the running
case), which was too funny to be taken seriously. The Defendants are
being accused of taking part in a 'photo-opportunity' outside
McDonald's Leicester Square store and a press conference at the
Cyberia Cafe in London. McDonald's point is the fact that the
Defendants took part in publishing further the challenged factsheet.
So this is how McDonald's defines the site: 'On Friday, February 16,
1996, the Defendants publicly launched the 'McSpotlight' World-Wide
Internet Web Site having on it, among other material, a version of the
leaflet complained of (..)' This is what I call the understatement of
the year. I think this is the first case in court in which people are
being accused of 'encouraging users of the Internet to access the
Website where they are likely to read the same' (i.e. the leaflet).

The final straw for McDonald's could well be the latest feature
on McSpotlight - and as far as I know, this is the first time
anyone on Internet has done this - in which, they use the
'Frames' browsing system to hijack McDonald's own corporate
website. On one side of your screen you have McDonald's shiny,
expensive website, and on the other you have a detailed
deconstruction and criticism from McSpotlight. McDonald's
carefully-constructed PR nonsense is taken apart word by word,
and as McSpotlight contains 25 Mb of detailed information about
McDonald's, they simply add links to the scientific reports, or
witness statments or whatever, that support their arguments.

McSpotlight is the perfect example of how to combine safe &
familiar activist methods of campaigning in the street - sneeking
around in the dark hours at night - with using the new techniques of
modern times in cyberspace. This can't be illustrated better then with
the secret picture I saw of a signpost of McDonald's advertising board
('left at the roundabout') with the URL-address of McSpotlight added.
Yabadabadooo! I love it!

How to Fight Scientology, on the Net 

Net-activists cannot do without the old media, not entirely.
The controversy between acces provider xs4all.nl and the Church
of Scientology proved that. Xs4all is a provider founded by the 
former anarcho-hackers famous for their underground magazine
HackTic ('xs4all', say it aloud: 'acces for all'). Started two
years ago, they are now running a fastgrowing access providing
company. But they have not forgotten their roots, and are always
in for fun, or for some political controversy. (They helped us
out with our Van Traa site technically, and with the cd-rom). In
the summer of 1995 xs4all got into serious problems with the
Church of Scientology. An accountholder had put the famous
Fishman-affidavit on his homepage. This needs some explanation,
I'm afraid. 

Scientology is not really a church, but more a profit seeking
company. Or a sect if you wish. To become a full member you have
to take several courses at different levels, and pay for them.
The higher levels of these courses are kept secret, only
available for those who reached those sacred hights. Ex-members
are being terrorized and blackmailed to keep them from exposing
their stories in the media. 

Steven Fishman was one of them, he worked in the department of
Scientology that had to deal with defectors. So he had some
stories to tell when he left the sect. Scientology followed him
around the world with slander, libel and lawsuits. But Fishman
didn't give in. He even used the written material of the high-
level courses, called OT's, as evidence in one of the cases in
Court. This in fact made the so called secrets accessible for the
public. They consist of complete nonsenses, stories about UFO's,
immortallity and the bad things in your body you have to conquer, and
kill, which is, of course, not possible without paid counseling from
the Church. Now that the OT's were in the Court's library, the holy
secret could have been a sell out. But not for Scientology. They set
up teams to work in shifts and study the affidavits in the library, so
nobody else could ask for them. After a year or so Scientology managed
to get a court order to remove the papers from the library again. 

And that is where Internet comes in. 
People started putting the Fishman-affidavit on their homepage,
and Scientology came after them. Threatened providers, sued them, just
to cause a lot of problems and scare others off. But not the Dutchies.
When Scientology found out about the first Dutch homepage, they
started a procedure against xs4all. Before anything was clear, they
got themselves a search warrant and barged into the xs4all
headquarters to seizure all property. There was a baillif, some
American officials, computer specialists and a lot of Scientologists -
 twelve in total. They wanted to draw up an inventory, to use to prove
xs4all's credibility if the case ever went to court - and they would
win. (Silly thing is, they only wrote down the pc's in the main
office, and forgot to go and check out the engine room with hundreds
of modems and the big Unix systems).

This was a bridge too far. People who heard about the raid were
stupefied, indignant, and extremely angry. Some of them started
putting the Fishman affidavit on their own home page. The writer
Karin Spaink took a lead in organizing the protests and within
a week one hundred people from all over the country had an
addition to their homepage. Karin Spaink started a mailinglist
to keep all those individuals informed, and that was more then
All kind of people joined, forming an extraordinairy occasional
coalition. Journalists, a liberal MP, commercial broadcasting
stations, people at universities, catholics, christians,
activists, you name it. They all had accounts with different
providers, so they were kind of hard to get. I am sure this
coalition would not have survived a reallife meeting, let alone
a discussion on the strategy. Some of them would have detested
eachother at first sight, just because the way they looked, or
smelled or talked. But on the Net, everybody joined for their own
reason, for the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, or just to
tease Scientology. And this was the strength of the action. Karin
Spaink was the spokeswoman in the press and coordinated the legal
steps. A newsgroup was founded to discuss important matters, with
sympathisers as well, but the list was moderated and closed. This
worked, and it really helped.       

Scientology pulled out all the stops to reduce the damage. When
persuading didn't help, they started threatening providers, and
harrassing some of the participants. The liberal MP for instance, got
so many phonecalls from CoS, that he felt forced to remove the Fishman
papers temporarily because he couldn't get on with his work. They even
tried to frame Karin Spaink and some people from xs4all in a setup so
complicated it would take hours to explain. (Someone -said to be-
working for the American Embassy offered them compromising information
about Scientology in order to help them fight the Church. But soon it
came out he had been in touch with Scientology before he talked the
xs4all.) They started to build their mirror palace, to play people off
against one another. But it didn't really work here.

Scientology started a procedure for violating copyrights, against
several providers and Karin Spaink. As this would be the first case on
copyright & Internet, some people thought it a shame it had to be a
Scientology case. Because the principle of the matter could easily be
confused with their smoke screen of freedom of religion.

The occasional coalition hired a good laywer, still remembered
for his work for revolutionaires in the seventies. The Fishman
Affidavit was printed on old fashioned posters (pure text layout, it's
quite a lot of letters..) which were soon seen in the centre of the
city, specially around CoS-headquarters. They had their people
sneeking around with spray and lime to repaint the posters. A date was
set for the Court hearing, at the request of Scientology months after
the procedure started. Their biggest problem was the secrecy of the
challenged papers. In order to claim the copyright, they would have to
come forward with the orginals. And thus, break their own secrecy.
They tried to solve this dilemma by hiring a public notary to
comparise the orginal documents and the Internet version. This took
him a long time.

Two days before the case was due in Court, the very night the
Fishman supportgroup held a solidarity night in the Milkyway
(well known to every smoking visitor of Amsterdam), Scientology
announced that they were withdrawing the case. The notary had not been
able to declare the two documents were exactly identical. Goodbye
copyright claim.

This support gathering was a big success. Celebrities read out
horrifying statements from ex members, and comical parts of the
so called secret wisdom of the Church. Star of the show was David
Fishman himself, flown in from the United States. He was completely
flabbergasted as he hardly knew about the Internet struggle about his
Affidavit before a friend introduced him to the Net a short time
before. It sure was inspiring for him to be in Amsterdam. And he was
not the only Yank present. Scientology had brought the top of their
public relation staff - easily identified by their stiff, aloof faces.

Isn't it funny, the night in the Milkyway was the top of the
campaign? The fight with Scientology origanally was a pure
Internet event. The challenge was, whether or not, something
could be published, on the Net. Support came through newsgroups
and connected people in the United States, and the campaign
spread, around the world (to Hungary for instance). The primary
attack was against a provider, which aroused the anger of Dutch
users of the Net. The coalition they formed wouldn't have
survived reallife meetings, but florished in Cyberspace. 

This was new. But then again, the campaign couldn't do without
the Old Media. A case in Court, a laywer from the seventies, a
blackbook by sect-watchers and paperprints postered in the
street. A sole window smashed, a meeting in a hippyjoint and good
coverage in the papers. And Scientology brought out another law suit,
we won, and they brought out a new one. This is a neverending story.

The Raid on Ravage

The last tale I want to tell you was the absolute reverse. An
activist paper, printed on paper, was supported by a digital
version on the Net.

On May 3rd, Dutch special branch police from Arnhem raided the
premises of the Amsterdam activist bi-weekly 'Ravage' (previously
"NN") They made off with all the (7) computers, as well as all the
book-keeping & administration records (7 garbage-bags full). The
alleged cause was that Ravage was the sole recipient of a
claim-letter, purportedly sent by the 'Earth Liberation Front'. 

The ELF claimed a bomb attack on the buildings of the german
chemical concern BASF, Arnhem subsidiary, several weeks before.
This bomb attack (quite some damage, no casualties) is still
unresolved. The text of the claim letter was short. 'Arnhem. The
polluter will pay. Even old bills. oct 17, 4.5.V4.', and signed

This letter was published in the May 3 issue of Ravage, whereupon the
police, instead of following the usual course of negotiations,
threats, and compromise, as is the usual with more established media,
went in for a large-scale raid. Due to some logistical &
organisational troubles and the fact that they were in for a full 3
hours in Ravage's offices, this raid resulted in some nasty rioting
with the activists that had made for the premises in the meanwhile. 
The computers were returned on the next Monday: Ravage claims one of
them damaged. The rest of the seizures were returned on Thursday, with
one sack full missing (containing the dustbins!) as it vanished during
the riot at the premises' exit.  

This is not the first time the Dutch justice system has dragged
its nets wide on the 'activist's networks' by raiding sympathetic but
independent media or its journalists.  This time the public outrage
was pretty massive, with the Dutch Federation of Journalists
complaining loudly, and an extremely severe editorial in the morning
daily 'De Volkskrant'. 

The criminal justice department and the police risk criticism
making this kinds of raids on selected targets. They do it
nevertheless and get hold of a wealth of inside information on
a wide range of groups & persons (eg animal right activists,
anti-airport agitators, defenders of asylum-seekers, etc. etc.)
which would be hard to get otherwise. 

Buro Jansen & Janssen thought we were duty bound to put the
emergency edition of Ravage, published four days after the raid,
on our homepage. Attempts to silence critical voices should be
reported not only to the Index On Censorship, but also in
If endangered spieces like the values of freedom of speech and
of information gathering are at the stake, Internet should speak
up. Even though the exemption of sources is an oldfashioned
problem on the Net, Old and New Media should be comrades in arms.

I wonder what's next...

Greetings from Amsterdam

Eveline Lubbers

evel {AT} xs4all.nl

Van Traa Report: 




The Van Traa cd-rom can be ordered at the Jansen & Janssen
office. Please call or mail us so we can tell you the easiest way to
send money from your country.

Buro Jansen & Janssen 

tel: ++ 31-20-6123202
fax: ++ 31-20-6168967
email:respub {AT} xs4all.nl

P.O. Box 10591
1001 EN Amsterdam
the Netherlands

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