Pissing Off The WTO
Tactics of a notorious Web site prankster

On November 23, the harried World Trade Organization actually took the time to issue a press release complaining about a parody Web site [which has been functioning sporadically since December 1] by the notorious prankster subversives RTMark. The RTMark organization had already been in the news for its parody George W. Bush Web site, which provoked Bush into saying, "There ought to be limits to freedom." Up until that point, RTMark was best known for providing funding for pranksters like Negativland.

See also...
... by Ray Thomas (Rtmark)
... in the Scope section
... from December 3, 1999

GettingIt asked Ray Thomas, spokesperson for RTMark, to write a response to the WTO criticism, defending their ongoing project of detourning corporate/political Web sites, and discussing their tactics.

--R.U. Sirius

RTMark's goal with sites such as http://Gatt.org, www.gwbush.com (now archived at www.rtmark.com/bush.html; we're not involved any longer), and www.yesrudy.com is twofold: first, to comment on the entity in question, and secondly, to annoy the entity in question into a sufficiently extreme -- or silly -- reaction that allows us to trigger a media blizzard.

The rtmark.com/bush.html page documents the latter process in detail, as it unfolded around George W. Bush's remarkably hamfisted responses to the gwbush.com Web site.

In the case of the World Trade Organization's response to the Gatt.org site, we decided not to rely on the WTO's stupidity to the degree that we did with Bush. (In the case of Bush, explanations of Bush's behavior that attempted to rely on anything other than stupidity have the convoluted characteristic of conspiracy theories, so we discounted them and just plowed ahead. Giuliani, who is much smarter and more demonic than Bush, exhibited a measure of tactical intelligence by not responding to www.yesrudy.com, and told the New York Times he would not.)

The WTO issued its press release about Gatt.org on November 23, one week before the protests. We were informed about the WTO release the next day (November 24) by Jean-Guy Carrier, the WTO's Manager of Information Technologies for Development:

"Greetings, to be accurate you should update your WTO clone site to include the text of the news release deploring efforts such as your to confuse the public. Any honest group with information and sincere views to convey usually does so without having recourse to subterfuge and deception. Others such as yourselves consider they are above all that. Too bad."

Why did the WTO provide us with such an invaluable tool for achieving our media goals? It could be simply because they were following a "transparency" party line, which presumably requires that they appear in all matters to be fully responsive and available. Perhaps they were following the example of Shell Oil, which accomplishes this simulation wonderfully with its Web site as part of a long-term response to the "public relations disaster of the century." It seems probable that the WTO was acting automatically and according to program and giving little thought to possible results.

Another possibility, and one that gives a great deal of credit to the WTO, is that its tacticians fully expected RTMark to immediately issue a press release. This might have done dual service in the WTO's favor. First, it would allow the WTO to appear fully transparent and second, it might allow it to ascribe the overwhelmingly powerful protests of November 30 to "media terrorism." This may sound crazy, but this mysterious thing -- "media terrorism" -- was described as a possible danger to the success of the Seattle talks several weeks ago by WTO Director-General Mike Moore (comments are archived at http://Gatt.org). So we thought it not entirely impossible that he was aiming to chalk up at least some of the protests to media manipulation by entities such as RTMark. Such a tactic would immeasurably boost RTMark's profile but, on the whole, would not be a good thing.

Even though the latter theory does indeed bear many clear marks of lunacy, we thought it better to wait till the day after the protests to issue our own press release, just on the off-chance the WTO was, in fact, capable of being so demonically wily. Also, more importantly, a later release date might serve to extend coverage of opposition by a day or two, whereas an early release would most likely be incorporated into other articles -- good for RTMark's profile, but with less effect overall.

In any case, shortly after learning of the WTO press release, we updated the Gatt.org site to discuss "transparency" and just what the WTO might mean by it: something like what Shell Oil means by "voting," we imagine. We have been updating the site continually in response to events.

The latest news about Gatt.org is that it is periodically being crippled for unknown reasons. It is running on a normally very reliable server, but since December 1, constant attention by the administrator is required for it to function without interruption. We would like to point out that while RTMark may create "fraudulent" parody sites that expose or deconstruct corporate/political propaganda, we do not sabatoge the original Web sites. We are investigating the cause of the malfunctions -- a denial of service attack is one possibility -- and will react accordingly.

See Also: Our own press release

Ray Thomas is one of many.