So you want to create a hilarious website, press release, pamphlet, or something else—but you think you're just not funny at all. Well, writing (and being) funny can be taught. It's a whole thing, but here are a few quick ideas to get you started.
1. Make it a fun puzzle with a real payoff
You need to learn corporate-speak - get intimately familiar with it. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Read press releases, employee manuals, websites, and so on.
- Check out the PR campaigns of your target.
- Co-opt their dense, coded language.
Don't be afraid to see things from your opponent's perspective. Follow your opponent’s line of logic. It’ll take you far. Speak as them "for real", and do it right - as they would have to do if they were trying to speak clearly about the problem you’re addressing.
Being concise about the problem is key. If the problem you’re exposing is really clear, then your opponent’s argument is doomed.
2. Try not being funny
If you have a tendency to try to be funny or if you think funny means making jokes, take a step back. Sometimes joke-making is a perfect recipe for creating dry, overly satirical content that’s hard for the average human being to care about.
Don't be funny. Following Principle #1, Make it a Real Puzzle: Speak as your target. Fully inhabit their voice, and tell the story just as they would. Sincerity makes the best comedy. You may find yourself laughing and making others laugh, without even making a joke. This is a good sign. Then you can introduce little jokes here and there - but keep them subtle. Continue in their voice while accidentally getting your real, activist-y point across.
Here’s an example. In a press release from a big corporate restaurant chain, what if the CEO admits: "We must recognize that members of our waitstaff are part of the food chain, too." It's funny because the CEO is so clueless, but it can only be really funny in the context of a press release that comes from the restaurant chain’s point of view. This lets the line provoke a subtle, bottom-of-the-stomach laugh. In a ribald, over-the-top, unbelievable press release it would be just another goofy element lost in a sea of jokeyness.
3. Make your fake content (fake website, fake press release) believable.
Here are some principles for when you need to pass as your target:
- Be believable.
- Get noticed - grab your audience from the first moment they look at your release.
- Convey only essential information.
- Be funny and outrageous upon re-reading; once someone is in on the joke, then they can find your material funny (this is related to Principle #1).
All of these principles should remain in balance. Don’t sacrifice believability for the sake of getting noticed, and vice versa.
The absolute easiest way to make a satirical website is to copy your target’s site directly. Luckily, this is easy to do! You may need someone with some web experience to help, but this way you don’t need to start from scratch.
You’ll need to start by purchasing and hosting a domain, preferably one that looks a lot like your target’s real domain name.
Then can choose just to copy one page of your target’s website and link to your fake page. Or, you can copy the whole site and make changes to your favorite pages.
To copy just one page, use your browser's "Save As" feature and select "complete HTML." This is the easiest—saves the file but also saves all the links pointing to the original site. Edit the page and upload to your domain. (Also upload an index.html that resolves either to the target website or to your special release page.) Optionally, for a site that’s extremely simple (one page), this can be enough.
To copy the whole site, you'll need something like PageSucker or WebDevil to suck down whole site. Then you'll want to prune the site down to maybe 4-5 pages, and then edit those pages. This can be a lot of work, to make it work right.
As for the risks: your target may send you a meaningless legal threat known as a cease-and-desist letter, saying that they might sue you—which they might, but almost certainly won't, especially if your content does something subtly satirical—so that someone reading closely might understand that it’s fake.
For good measure, in the event of such a threat you can get pro bono legal help to respond to your target or otherwise advise you. The worst that can happen, probably, is that you’ll decide to take it down; this is very rarely necessary. (Note: we're not speaking as lawyers here.)
Jobjacking is a fun way insert a fun kind of madness into spaces where a certain way of acting or thinking is dominant and to mess with roles within a company, around consumption habits, or in any number of fun situations. Jobjacking can be done in real physical places, or in the “reality” of a fake website, press releases, and interviews.
You know those people asking you to sample some product for X, Y, or Z reasons? Why not become one? Some stores have a protocol for giving out samples, and some stores do not. Pick a product, make a fake "Demo Specialist" card for Company X, and either show up with the product or grab some off the shelf (you may need to pay for it). You could have some pre-printed media (like a brochure displaying the information about Company X that you'd like to highlight), a small folding table, maybe a uniform, and a confident attitude. You can breeze in and set up your table as if it’s your job, or you can ask for a manager and set up your table, then begin to inform the public about your product.
Suppose you dressed up in Wal-Mart gear and spoke to shoppers around the store about your store’s horrible health care and low wages. You might even share the photos of factories in China depicting the store’s working conditions. It’s worth noting that Wal-Mart is notoriously protective of their stores; they won’t even let painter Brendan O’Connell, who creates impressionistic paintings of Wal-Mart shelves, work openly in the store. So you might get thrown out of the store - in any case, you’ll want to plant a friend in the store to film the whole episode. “Imposter Wal-Mart worker thrown out for talking about labor conditions” could be a catchy story.
Comedians and artists have often used this sort of tactic in their work (it’s called acting). Activists can take a page out of their book by staging actions that are photogenic, funny, and well-documented. If your action is light-hearted and fun, you might not get thrown out of the store! Document it well, and share it widely online.
Take a look at Improv Everywhere’s action when people dressed like Best Buy Employees and helped people around in the stores. This kind of action requires lots of people and perhaps some rehearsal, but it can be a lot of fun. Just make sure your action has a clear point, and that you're ready to publicize it in the media—like when these folks did a whole musical number in a Target.
You can also jobjack in the digital world rather than the real world by creating a website or a press release. For instance, Company X has given a position to someone ridiculous! Such as: a kid becomes a train conductor, or a 14-year-old becomes cop for a day. You can publicize this fantastic story through a video news release or a website (see below!).
Here are the Yes Men's tips on crashing and getting invited to speak at conferences.
How can I attend a conference I'm not invited to?
So you've decided you want to hang out at a conference—out of masochism, or curiosity, or because you have a devious plan for what to do once you're inside.
First step: dress nicely. Visit your local thrift store and get a suit. (Shouldn't cost more than $20.) Get some fairly "nice" dress shoes (shouldn't cost more than $10 - nobody actually wants these things).
Second step: Just walk in the door, giving a friendly, confident wave to whoever's at the desk. Even if registration is required, they might not check that you've registered or that you're wearing a badge.
If you want to get a badge, or feel that you should have some credentials to get in the door, there will be probably be one of three situations you'll have to negotiate:
- There will be a table near the entrance that's full of badges all laid out nice and neatly. In that case you can just walk up, find a name, and say you're that person (and that you've forgotten your business cards). Take the conference materials you'll be graciously offered, along with the badge, and proceed inside.
- Another approach is to come to the table around midday (when a few tags are left), observe a tag, and then run out and print a few business cards. A sheet of pre-perforated cards and a copy shop will do the trick.
- There will be a table with a box on it, and a person behind the box. Then, you have to figure out what name to say. Perhaps you can adopt a heavy accent, say you need to register, and that your name is, for instance, Xzorpidquon. If you say it incomprehensibly enough, and with enough enthusiasm, the person behind the desk may help you by suggesting various names you might mean. Agree immediately with the first suggestion, especially if it matches your gender.
Once you have your badge, you can copy it quite easily by scanning it and reprinting it on the right color paper at your local copy store. Then you can get all your friends in!
Another way is to simply book a room next to the conference. Sometimes a conference does not use a whole hotel venue, and there might be a cheap room adjoining the conference you want to crash. For as little as a few hundred dollars, you may be able to book that room, and parasitically pretend you are part of the conference. Since you control that room, do as you like with it!
How can I speak at a conference?
Option: Just find an opportunity and take the microphone
Scout the venue before or during the event. Try to determine if there is a sound guy, or if the sound system is on or can be turned on. If the sound system is left on, then there you go: just take the podium and say your part. Make it snappy and short!
Alternately, you can bring a briefcase style battery powered PA with you and take the stage whenever, without relying on their sound system. If you put on a lavalier mic and carry the briefcase, you could even lean it against the front of the podium and start speaking - it will seem like you are amplified through their system, but they can’t turn you off. You can rant on till they kick you out.
One other option: you can simulate a mic takeover for video by simply having your person take the stage and make a speech when nobody is around, and then intercut with reactions in the crowded room. So then the intervention becomes a video release only.
Option: Register online as a speaker
If you want to speak at a conference, the easiest way is to find the conference website, find the page called "speaking opportunities" (often in the "About" menu), and register. (You can also just search online for "speaking opportunities" - and you'll find tens of thousands of pages. Add a keyword if you like - like "oil and gas 'speaking opportunities'".)
You'll need to fill out some hard information - for example, a company name, an address, an email, a phone number, etc. You should use an email and phone number that work (and depending on what you've filled out, you can expect a follow-up call), but the address can be totally fake.
As for the email: pick something that looks right. For example, if you're representing Exxon as Luella Arschenfleck, buy a domain like exxon-corporate.com and use an address like email@example.com. Note: a company like Godaddy might cancel your domain name just because it contains a well-known corporate name, so you might want to use an off-beat registrar like Joker.com.
The form might also ask for your biography, description of presentation, benefits of the presentation, and additional people who might want to speak on a panel with you. For all of these, don't stand out. To help, you can plunder liberally from the internet. For example, if the conference is on oil and gas, you might try to find a powerpoint about drilling technologies - simply search on "drilling technologies ppt" or the like. Start from that.
Note: with this approach, you'll probably be asked to pay a fee as speaker. If you insist that you're very important and that you'll be issuing some very important information, that fee might be waived - but don't count on it. When we registered as Dow Chemical to speak at a nanotechnology conference in San Francisco, we dodged the fee, but at the door the organizers demanded it ($600). So we had to go find a cash machine.
Plan B: Try to register to speak without doing all the dirty work. Simply register as yourself. Once you are the speaker, you simply take the stage when it is your turn, and you say something to the effect of: “I am very glad to be here talking about X, however, when I realized that the chairman of Megacorp was here, I had to cede my time to him.” Then the person playing the megacorp guy comes up and speaks... and you can choose whether or not to publicize how they got on stage, but you do have video of them speaking.
Option: Pose as a public-relations firm with a very important client
An even better technique is to simply call up the conference.
In Calgary, Alberta, we decided we wanted to speak as Exxon at a big oil conference. So Mike emailed the conference from an address we happened to own, using a new name: firstname.lastname@example.org. (We don't own hillknowlton.com anymore, but any address that looks like it could belong to a PR firm will do.)
So "Gus" (Mike) wrote to the conference and told them he represented none other than Lee Raymond, the former chair of Exxon Mobil and one of the biggest players in the oil industry. Raymond, said Gus, happened to be going hunting near Calgary, and since he was involved in an outreach campaign related to his new position advising the U.S. government, he was interested in speaking at the conference. They jumped at the chance. Of course, on the day of the event, Raymond did not show up, and assistants (that would be us, Mike and Andy) had to take his place.
The problem with promising to deliver someone very famous is obvious: everyone knows who they are – and it might just get back to someone who knows the truth. So we explained that due to security and the nature of the very sensitive announcement that Raymond was to make, the conference was not allowed to say anything about him or his presentation on their promotional material. Surprisingly enough, that approach has worked… more than once. Remember to use the word "embargoed" a lot, it sounds quite important. (It hasn't always worked. In New Orleans, we promised a conference Alfonso Jackson, the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and told them to keep it a secret so that the real Jackson didn't find out. Instead, the conference folks told the mayor and the governor, who both showed up to rub shoulders with Jackson... or, as it turned out, his assistant, one Rene Oswin—actually Andy.)
Option: Pose as a public-relations firm with a nobody client
A slightly more elaborate version of the VIP invitation can be used to get a "nobody" on the roster as well. When we found a conference on "Catastrophic Loss" we felt compelled to send someone from "Halliburton." First, Mike made up a bunch of names at different email addresses at hillknowlton.com. The first one, "John Smith," sent an email to the conference company, acting as if he had met them before. He wrote that their colleague "Joe" had said that they really would love to have "Fred Wolff" at the next conference, and he, John Smith, had promised to try. So now he was trying! A few days later, they got an email from a different person at hillknowlton.com, saying they'd gotten him! The conference fell for it, and "Fred Wolff" (Andy) showed them Survivaballs.
Option: Set up a website and wait
This is what we started out doing. Download a website, alter it, post it at a believable web address, and voilà! instant boss-bait. It may take a while to catch one, though....
Option: Fake it entirely
This is perhaps the most underutilized of the methods. We did something like this in Copenhagen at the Cop15, where we did not have access to the forum anyway. When nobody is at the podium (could be after hours during the conference, or during the conference when nobody is in the room) simply have your person stand behind the podium and give their speech. They can do it into a wireless mic, or they can be wearing a lav. When the room is full for another event, record the reaction shots of the audience. Cut together, add ambient sound and perhaps reverb to the speaker. But do keep in mind that this is a very dirty trick! Bad, bad boys and girls.
What you’ll need
So, just to review, you will need at the least:
- A speech or speeches from the “perpetrators”—or whatever intervention you plan
- A press release—or more than one release (as the organization you are mocking and as yourselves—whoever you decide that is.)
- A domain name / website to send press release from (optional, since you may just want to send the release about the event). However, if you create this website, it is also a good place to post info and video.
- Another website, from your real organization, that takes responsibility for the action. This one should have links to actual campaigns and to action items.
- For documentation, cell phone cameras can be enough, and there are some actions that have gotten huge publicity just from that sort of footage, or from hidden camera footage.
- If you want to document really professionally, make sure to find camera people / editors who can turn the video around in a matter of 2 hours. Make sure that these guys are legit. Everyone says they can do this, but they need to actually be able to do it at a professional level. but there should be some of those too. You need three cameras: one for the podium, locked down, and two on the audience, with an eye to catching someone who is going to intervene (real or fake; you can always plant a friend to respond to you). And you should ensure the room includes some fake press and attendees, to stimulate questions and to make the room look more full. Think about filming and editing bystander "reactions" to the speech before you actually stage this event, rather than waiting, so you can post those reactions immediately.
- A plan to get other conference goers involved somehow - including egging on an intervention.
- Someone to act as an official and fake intervener, calling the police or threatening to throw you out. This is for theatrical effect.
- A web person who is ready to post video on the day of and update the website as things come in, like new press links. (See Documenting Your Project)
There are different reasons you might want to accost people on the street (when we say “to accost,” we mean “to grab the attention of unsuspecting strangers”). The reasoning is for you to think through. As for the ways to accost them...
Stand next to a stunning sign
Why not put up a sign advertising something particularly great or offensively horrible, and stand near it with a brochure? You can represent yourself as the company selling this product if you want, which makes the action more fun.
Artist Steve Lambert uses this tactic with his sign that reads “Capitalism works for me!”, which is shiny and spectacular and encourages people to stop and engage with it.
Give them something they need
In 2004, during the US presidential elections, we printed up a bunch of “US Patriot Pledges” and handed them out to Republicans. We hoped that they would read through these things and freak out at what Bush was asking them to sacrifice. (Instead, they just read them and signed.) We’ve also distributed Survivaball brochures (inside PDF, outside PDF) as a way of bringing climate change issues close to home.
Ask passers-by for advice
Making an action participatory not only gets them to stop and listen to you for a second, but it also gives you a chance to make the issue personal. When you ask folks for advice, they get to show how smart (or how foolish) they are. You can film these responses for reaction shots or funny ideas. But you should also think about how your hilarious action can get passers-by to articulate the problem, rather than just telling them what the problem is. As anyone who has had an argument with a boss or a five-year-old knows, if a person has to articulate an idea themselves, they’ll understand it better than if you just tell them the idea.
In Boston, we showed people who were drinking Coca Cola’s Dasani water a new marketing campaign for the bottles, and we asked them what they thought of the new product, Deceit water (Dasani water is actually just tap water with salt added). Several people were stunned and educated, and the video was pretty funny.
Dress up in a hilarious costume
Wacky antics and satire can sometimes be the best form of resistance because it brings an air of celebration, wildness and humor to the pretty stark and terrifying times we find ourselves in. Your audience is more likely to remember your message when you wowed them with a compelling visual tableau, or made them laugh their asses off.
There are lots of folks who have mastered striking, political theatre like Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping in New York and Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani in Peru. Their work is inspiring. Check it out!
If you’re planning a street action, Beautiful Trouble is an invaluable resource. Check out the following articles to get started, then keep browsing… you’ll find something useful.
Mass Street Action: Planning a street action on a large scale
Don’t Dress Like a Protestor: Using costumes effectively
Show, Don’t Tell: Thinking visually before you hit the streets
The Teddy Bear Catapult: Using absurdity to undermine the aura of authority
Ethical Spectacle: Stephen Duncolme’s principles for planning a symbolic action
Putting together a press conference on behalf of a target (who doesn’t know you’re doing it) can be very simple. You just need to set up a podium with a logo on it in front of a building and speak over a PA system of some sort to a small audience of fake reporters (plus real ones, if you can convince them to show up) and planted passers-by (then real ones who stop to see what’s going on). No forewarning needed: just turn on your sound system, start speaking, and record the whole thing.
The key here is simply to make it look good: add some flag-waving, colorful signs, a marching band, perhaps some fake protesters against your press conference—or whatever's appropriate to your context. All will contribute joy and color to an impromptu scene.
Tipping off your target so they intervene in your action—for instance, by shutting down your press conference—is a good tactic as well. When Mr. Eric Wohlschlegel of the US Chamber of Commerce interrupted our press conference (which was at the National Press Club), it was a gold mine for us, and extended the story’s longevity in the media by a good three days. But that intervention was unplanned: a real reporter received our press advisory and showed up at the Chamber instead of the National Press Club, tipping them off. We could have done this on purpose, had we known how great it would be.
Note: If you rent a room at an official venue, and if you try to invite real journalists to your conference with a Press Advisory, there are some additional considerations:
- You’ll have to figure out how to not tip off your target before the event, when journalists call them up to ask about the press conference. One option is to tie up the target’s phone lines all morning between the time of your Press Advisory and the event itself, with numerous calls from angry citizens. (This is what the Yes Men and their collaborators The Avaaz Action Factory did in the instance mentioned above.)
- It’s probably best not to let the official venue (e.g. the National Press Club) know that you’ll be posing as your target. Instead, make up a name. Then, switch the signs and logos at the last minute. (Note: In the wake of our conference at the NPC on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, the NPC changed its requirements to make it more difficult to change your name/logo. But there are, of course, many other venues.)
You’ll want to film your event in detail, with three or four cameras. This is the most important consideration! This is much more important than who’s in attendance. You shouldn’t count on coverage from real reporters—you should cover it yourself and send out the video with a press release (see "Prime Time" section below). Here are some tips:
- One camera can be a steady wide shot of the area, including the speaker(s).
- One can be a steady close-up on the speaker(s).
- Reactions of the audience are especially useful in editing a funny piece, so it’s a good idea to have one camera dedicated to getting shots of the audience reacting.
- One can be a roving camera that captures other stuff, especially unexpected action, as it happens.
Note: Camera people should generally stick to their jobs - for example, the wide-shot camera shouldn’t zoom in. The close-up camera shouldn’t zoom out. The reaction camera shouldn’t show the speaker(s). But there are always exceptions.
The Yes Men do not generally use arrests as a way to grab media attention, but we very much respect it as a tactic. If your goal in getting arrested is to increase press or visibility for your issue, there are various ways to optimize the arrest. Some people have used arrests to significantly change how the mainstream media covers their cause—and some big organizations like Greenpeace have made it part of their daily operations. With good planning, getting arrested is not to be feared, but it is also not to be taken lightly: occasionally there are serious consequences for the activist (See Tim DeChristopher’s story, below.)
This guide will give you a few ideas for engaging the media if you are getting arrested. It is not a practical guide to the whole process. There are many things to think about that have nothing to do with media—like figuring out the stakes, having people on the outside to advocate once you are in the system, etc. Before you decide to participate in direct action, civil disobedience, and/or face arrest, it’s important to prepare yourself and your team. There are many great guides to minimizing the risks while being arrested. You would be advised to find one that can help you understand the local context where you plan to get arrested. Sometimes it is also good to review best practices for being arrested along issue-specific lines. If you are planning to get arrested while locking down to a bulldozer that is clearing forest for a pipeline, there are amazing folks who know all about that. Reach out to them! Here are just a few of many available resources as you plan your action.
- ACT UP, Civil Disobedience Manual
- Beautiful Trouble, “Take Risks, but Take Care”
- War Resisters League, “Nonviolence Training: Nonviolent Action Preparation”
- Destructables, “Copwatch: Know Your Rights!”
- Undocubus, Nopapersnofear.org
If you are undocumented, we’ve been told it’s a good idea to seek legal advice before placing yourself at risk of arrest.
We did once manage to use an arrest to get attention for a cause. In 2009, Andy Bichlbaum spent 26 hours in New York City's central lockup before having all charges against him dismissed.
Bichlbaum was arrested and charged with trespassing after he and 21 "Survivaballs" gathered on New York City's East River and announced they were to going to "take the UN by storm" from the water. The event was a photogenic action planned to draw media attention to the run-up to Copenhagen. It was also the official inauguration of the Yes Men's "Balls Across America" series of civil disobedience actions, inspired by the Climate Pledge of Resistance.
Minutes after the balls began wading into the water, law enforcement swooped in on the protesters by land, sea, and air. In order not to harm their attackers, the balls admitted defeat and waddled out of the water and off the beach. Seven participants were given tickets for trespassing, and one Bichlbaum was whisked away to "the Tombs," New York's central processing facility at 100 Centre Street, due to an unpaid ticket for bicycle riding.
Bichlbaum's arrest led to hilarious prime-time coverage on CNN. But only because there were cameras there to photograph and videotape the arrest, and a team ready to call CNN producers, tell them about the action and the arrest, and to take the media directly to the CNN offices. But getting arrested can be like the proverbial tree falling in the woods: if there is nobody there to hear it, record it, and broadcast it, then it may as well have not happened. The takeaway: if you’re getting arrested, you need competent people to film everything, take pictures, and then quickly get the documentation to the mainstream media. Our story about Andy’s arrest was from 2009, but nowadays you should also be doing social media. Yes, deliver your files to the big guys if they’ll take it, but don’t count on them. Get the word out instantly by uploading the arrest to YouTube, announcing it via email, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, or whatever other over-rated NSA backdoor websites are the big social thing of the moment. It also works to find Rupert Murdoch, stand one foot away from him, and using an eleven-inch bullhorn, sing the story of the arrest directly into his gob. Try it!
Sometimes getting arrested can have huge consequences, both in your movement work and in your own life. In 2008, student Tim DeChristopher attended an illegal land auction in Utah. Planning to disrupt the auction, in which public land was being sold to the gas and oil industry, DeChristopher decided to participate as a bidder, driving up prices and ultimately winning several of the plots of land.
In an interview with Democracy Now, DeChristopher said:
Once I was in there, I realized that any kind of speech or disruption wasn’t going to be very effective. But I saw pretty quickly how I could have a pretty major impact on the way this worked. It took me a little bit of time to build up my courage, knowing what the consequences would be—and then I started bidding and started driving up the prices. But I knew I could be doing more. So then I started winning bids, and disrupting it as clearly as I could.
DeChristopher’s actions shut down the auction, but he also was charged with two felonies and spent almost two years in prison. You can read the full story here.
In an age of NSA nuisance, security and privacy in activism is a very real concern. As much as you want people to know what you’re doing and cause a rumble, you want it to happen on your rules - not when some two-bit hacker decides to poke around. That said, security culture can be a double-edged sword: in organizations based around community and trust, suspicion is no one’s friend. So here are some Yes Men tips and tools for staying safe - and, more importantly, sane.
What Is Security Culture?
Security culture is the set of values and customs you establish in your organization around security. Security culture is developed to minimize the risk of your activities being sabotaged or infiltrated by outsiders which can undermine direct action.
Why Is Security Culture Important?
Activist organizations operate with a degree of covertness: this level of secrecy allows for direct action which relies on tactics of surprise and shock. Often, activist organizations operate in a grey area when it comes to legality: it can be crucial to maintain protection from official eyes. This is particularly important as activist organizations are often directly targeted by said official eyes. It is also important for the individual safety of your members: we operate around sensitive issues and maintaining anonymity for your members is vital.
How Is Security Culture Dangerous?
Security culture inherently relies on suspicion: an awareness of your vulnerability is what should motivate you to develop a strong security system. But if you think about activist culture more broadly, you’ll think of values of community, empowerment and trust at the heart of many movements - this can feel at odds with security culture which relies on suspicion, secrecy and covertness.
As activist and writer George Lakey points out, “To win, movements need to expand. To expand, activists need to trust—themselves, each other, and people they reach out to.” This is true both within the team and with outside allies who are necessary to get the ball rolling. Creating an environment based on suspicion and fear can break a team apart and be totally counterproductive to inspiring others to join your movement.
How Do You Solve This Dilemma?
So you need security culture but it can also be your achilles heel. How do you solve this? Following this handy Yes Men guide of course!
Assess your risk.
How dangerous and risky is your operation really? Are you trying to break into the Pentagon or stop the closure of your favorite ice cream store? Think about this in terms of how much of a target your activity really is and also how vulnerable you really are. At the end of the day, when you are just starting out, you won’t be trying to take on Monsanto all on your own: rather, your biggest threat will be leaks to the media. These can be inadvertent leaks or deliberate sabotage: either way, having a sensible approach to security culture will ensure that your operation makes headlines when it best suits you. But always maintain an awareness of what your risk factor really is - assessing this will allow you to avoid unnecessary paranoia and develop the most effective strategy.
Come Up With An Appropriate Strategy
- Once you have determined your risk factor, come up with a strategy that is appropriate to your organization. Set up a meeting with your key team members and come up with a plan that is effective for all of you. Security needs to start with an organization’s leadership - you need to set the right tone.
- Think about how you involve new members too: this process always brings a risk, so come up with ways to ensure security. Perhaps do an informal background check or make sure they have references from people within the organization. Once you feel comfortable involving someone new, share your security concerns with them so everyone on the team is on the same page.
- Create an information chain: there are certain pieces of information that can be far more crucial to your activities than others. Likewise, there are members of your team who have greater seniority: these are the people you can trust with the more sensitive information. Meanwhile, newer members can be privy to what is essential for their work. This way, if someone in your outer circle is compromised, the inner workings of your plan won’t be undermined.
Keep Your Paranoia In Check
Always check in with yourself to make sure you aren’t getting paranoid. Keep eyes and ears open, of course, but not at the expense of teamwork. Remember that your focus is on ACTION not on worrying if people are going to find out about it. It's not newsworthy that "some activists were planning to do this really funny thing"—it's only news if you actually do it. So focus first on your action, then on your security plan. Maintain a cool head and ask yourself - is this healthy suspicion or all-out, Rear Window paranoia?
One time the Yes Men ran a pretty successful stunt during the 2004 Bush campaign, specifically during a conference by this strange cultish group called the International Web Police. We had everyone fooled right up until the when someone cottoned on that we were actually imposters with a healthy dose of satire. All hell broke loose and we were driven out of the conference room pretty quickly. We panicked and got a bit paranoid that the police had been called: we ended up dumping all our props and equipment and making a real run for it. Of course, the police WEREN’T really after us and, had we kept a cool head, we probably could’ve held on to some useful pieces of equipment for future stunts. So again, always assess your risk factor and be prepared to act accordingly. A cool head, even when a room full of Republicans is yelling at you, is key.
Maintaining communication is crucial. Here’s an example. In 2012, a woman infiltrated the 9/11 survivors movement: various people within the organization had suspicions, but didn't talk to each other about their suspicions. Eventually the deception came to light, but it seriously undermined the organization in the process. So, if you are worried about a potential infiltration - talk! Have a meeting with your key members, maintain trust and maintain openness with the people that are important to your work.
Use Your Common Sense!
Above all, stay logical. If something or someone doesn’t feel right, trust your gut and act. If someone is trying to get you to do something dangerous or foolish that could compromise you are your organization, don’t do it. Be open about your concerns or disagreements. As much as security is about protecting privacy, in this kind of work its also about talking and keeping communication wide open - this will be the true strength of your team.
Talk to Us!
Lastly, talk to us. Just by being on this site you’ve given us access to tons of information: thanks to a handy loophole in legislation, we’ve gained access to your metadata, which is just oh so useful. Just kidding. Or are we? No, we are. But seriously. Watch your back.