#PalmOilGate is a series of investigative posts about the fake claims online that attack proponents of sustainability initiatives, including the Forest Stewardship Council and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The strengths and weaknesses of the voluntary standards by these initiatives are well covered by science. However, various online accounts are used to polarise public perception with shallow lies and fake facts.
(This post has been updated regularly since its first release; sections added/edited include Palm Oil Detectives’ false claims regarding links to FSC/RSPO, police reports, promoting suicide, stalking/harassment, an RSPO plantation and a donation to Orangutan Land Trust; as well as Palm Oil Detectives promoting a supermarket company.)
For several months now, a Twitter account named ‘Palm Oil Detectives‘ has been smearing various proponents of sustainability certification. Its main target is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (@RSPOtweets), in an attempt to vilify its significant progress towards responsible management by the palm oil industry. The account prides itself on being anonymous (see this tweet/mirror), and even its website contains no information on the identity of the person(s) administering it.
This, of course, is a clear warning sign that something is very, very wrong with the claims made on the site and the associated accounts!
Despite the attempts to stay anonymous, the individual behind Palm Oil Detectives left an abundance of online clues that took less than an hour to uncover. Since some of the following evidence has already been scrubbed from the internet, and websites have been deactivated or set to members-only accounts, links to mirrors in the Wayback Machine are included throughout this article.
In a nutshell, the following 8 clues were found online that unmask the owner and admin of several online accounts and websites and verify the identity of this individual without any remaining doubt:
- Per a now-deleted Tweet (mirror), the person behind Content Catnip’s website and Twitter account is also behind Palm Oil Detectives’s website and Twitter account;
- replies to older posts (see a.m.o. this post/mirror) on Content Catnip’s website identify its admin as Athena;
- Middleground Magazine confirms point 2 on its website (mirror) and in a Facebook post (mirror), with the accompanying image right;
- clue 3 leads to a LinkedIn account (mirror) with the same name and image;
- In a reply to a post (mirror) on Vegemite on Oatcakes website, Athena Dennis listed yet another website (www.athenadennis.com, mirror) and Twitter account (@athenadennis, suspended);
- clues 1&5 lead to two blogs: athenadennisblog.wordpress.com and palmoildetectivez.wordpress.com (which redirect to athenacreativeweb.com and palmoildetectives.com respectively);
- clue 6 leads to yet another blog: contentcatnip.wordpress.com and identifies www.athenadennis.com as an admin (see this Google Search/mirror); and
- athenadennisblog.wordpress.com (mirror) confirms the LinkedIn account (clue 4) and leads to yet another Twitter account (@creativeathena) in its pull-up footer.
Based on her LinkedIn account, Athena Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Communications & Marketing and has over 15 years of experience in “senior marketing consulting and strategic marketing” and “running content marketing campaigns for multiple clients“. She is – quite literally – a certified and experienced spin doctor who peddles her trade on social media. Note her various commercial web domains identified above: athenadennis.com, athenacreativeweb.com, contentcatnip.com, and palmoildetectives.com. And then ask yourself what a spin doctor has to gain from any successful spin – either paid or unpaid. The more outrageous and successful that spin, the more a spin doctor’s portfolio increases in value, the more clients (s)he will attract with her ‘Strategic Content Marketing Stack‘ (mirror) and the more income is generated to maintain a 2M$ house.
Athena’s ethics are very questionable. For instance, she doesn’t take the concept of Intellectual Property very seriously – despite being clearly aware of it (she even refers to IP-free images on her old website). She regularly (ab)uses digital imagery from other sites without attribution or the owners’ consent. This includes imagery from a.o. Nicolas Schwab (tweet/mirror) but also many, many photographs and videos from Joel Sartore; see a.m.o. the tweet/mirror right, in which the logo (Video Ark) and the name (Joel Sartore) have been removed.
Not even the brand name ‘Palm Oil Detectives’ appears to be Athena’s idea! It was taken from a few high schoolers: compare the ‘z’ in Athena’s palmoildetectivez.wordpress.com versus the ‘s’ in palmoildetectives.wordpress.com.
Under the Twitter account @contentcatnip, Athena has already admitted that “palm oil [actually] produces more oil per hectare than other oil crops making it better for the environment than coconut or rapeseed oil”; see this Tweet/mirror. She has a fair understanding of the issues concerning the palm oil industry and the role of the RSPO in transforming this industry.
And with even Greenpeace calling her claims ‘a little misleading‘, Athena Dennis’ professional details raise numerous alarms. More so in light of her stubborn efforts to scrub posts from Twitter and other social media to hide her track record with for-profit entities and her conflicting interests. It raises the question of whether one of these entities is funding her propaganda, and which one that is. Only Athena can tell, but I won’t hold my breath for her ethics to kick in.
Athena’s spins are clever creations – she is a trained spin doctor after all – that are extremely toxic and libellous. Yet, most of her claims are very easily debunked. Regarding her claim above, debunking it is particularly easy.
Athena’s claim above is particularly easy to debunk:
- I have neither worked for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) nor have I worked as an FSC or RSPO lead auditor; my contracts with conformity assessment bodies concerned technical expertise supporting the lead auditor(s); and
- both FSC and RSPO set standards for the sustainable management of forests and timber/oil palm plantations, and neither organisation audits against their standards.
Ergo, Athena’s claim is an argument from ignorance. She clearly has no clue about the various responsibilities of the FSC, the RSPO or the conformity assessment bodies. Worse, her claim that a single individual could certify a 20,000-150,000 ha plantation or natural forest is beyond dysfunctional. Nobody can be this ignorant of real life?
Athena provides a screenshot as evidence for her claim, and I’ll leave it up to the reader to determine if my replies to an extremely toxic white misogynist (@vanillaismd) indeed are hateful conduct based on race, ethnicity, etcetera. However, it is in no way, shape or form evidence of me ‘telling people to kill themselves’.
As Athena will undoubtedly present yet another out-of-context screenshot for her false narrative, on the right is the email by Twitter concerning the suspension of one account for ‘self-harm, suicide, or depression’. I’m convinced Twitter was wrong in its assessment of the meaning of my tweet. But, I’ll leave it up to the reader once again to determine if either ‘don’t eat the purple crayons’ or ‘stick to your greens’ promotes suicide.
I will not waste much time on this empty claim, as Athena provides no evidence for her “police reports”. Hitchens’s Razor can be applied, and her claims regarding these “police reports” can be dismissed as old maid tales.
Athena’s allegations of stalking and harassment are quite ironic, as they lack self-awareness. She presents posts from my Facebook and Twitter feeds – some a decade old and many irrelevant to her claim – as her “best” “evidence”. In particular, the screenshots of training provided in the past raise a crucial question: who is stalking whom?
Yet another example of how Athena blackwashes her opponents can be observed in the file names of her “evidence”. For instance, one of her screenshots is named ‘bart-van-assen-michelle-desilets-harassment-eleanor-and-fluffy.png‘. It shows how she spins a generic ‘crazy cat lady‘ pun into “stalking and harassment” of two Twitter Accounts – ‘Eleanor Abernathy‘ (the crazy cat lady from The Simpsons) and ‘fluffyorca‘ – despite neither being tagged or mentioned in the tweet/thread. Blackwashing indeed!
Athena systematically banks on ambiguity to fuel her blackwashing. An excellent example of this is her false narrative about the link between the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Sisirau (an oil palm plantation in North Sumatra, Indonesia). Athena claims Sisirau is an ‘RSPO #palmoil plantation‘ (see a.o. the tweets below), yet her evidence is cherry-picked from the RSPO’s Complaints Tracker and skewed to imply a direct relation between Sisirau and the RSPO. However, she presents no evidence of how this estate is owned, managed or certified by the RSPO.
In contrast, the evidence in the RSPO’s Complaints Tracker shows a very different relation: Sisirau was (and still is?) a subsidiary of the Ibris Palm Group, which in turn was a member of the RSPO. No public announcement, public summary or RSPO certificate is available online to indicate the plantation was ever assessed against the RSPO standard for responsible/sustainable management of oil palm plantations, let alone that it ever obtained a certificate!
The Palm Oil Detectives website mirrors one summary regarding the complaint against Sisirau plantation: palmoildetectivez.files.wordpress. com/2021/10/pt-sisrau-review… (original). Ergo, Athena is well aware of the findings below from this summary but chooses to ignore them and cherry-pick quotes that suit her false narrative about the destruction of (intact) rainforest:
- The P.T. Sisirau area was fully planted before between 1992 and 1996.
- The area is clearly being replanted and terraced and it is not a new development.
- Clearing and replanting began in 2010 and has continued through to 2013.
- It has been assumed that forest has been cleared and the orangutans will be starved, this might turn out to be a reactionary accusation not based on holistic information.
- There was no HCV to start with as the area was completely cleared and planted by 1999.
- Secondary forests areas have developed due to abandonment of fields as harvesting in non-terraced steep areas were not undertaken by the previous management.
- Due to recent stresses in the adjacent areas, the orangutans might be recent migrants seeking refuge.
- The orangutans could also be longer term users as the secondary forest areas which could have offered not only relative security but food too.
- Conservation value attributes have only developed over the past few years, but this could have been ascertained if the land manager had undertaken a HCV assessment in 2010 or earlier. But the records show that the holding was sold to P.T. Ibris Palm in 2010 and the company is only now getting familiar with RSPO requirements. The fact remains that in their interpretation of the RSPO P&C, a HCV assessment was not required because of the planted status of the estate.
- Most of the secondary forest areas has been cleared and replanted. Only a small proportion is left and currently being given conservation status by the company.
Athena’s narrative about this plantation is but another example of how her claims contain little or no truths and how she blackwashes her opponents (in this case the RSPO) with oversimplified, false narratives.
Adding unrelated images for their shock value is another blackwashing technique that Athena has mastered to a T. In her ‘short story … about #palmoil plantations‘ tweet below, the top-right image of a dead fish was taken (likely in Slovenia) by Ajala and the bottom-right image of (domestic?) waste was taken in India by Yogendra Singh. Neither image nor their owners show any relation to oil palm production. Worse, Athena cannot even be bothered to accredit the owners of the images and plagiarism may well be her middle name.
All the evidence above boils down to a single question: how does a self-proclaimed ‘independent wildlife activist‘ justify promoting a.o. ‘convenience food and snack brands‘? Her actions fuel the suspicion that Athena has no (f)actual solutions to global concerns about climate change, deforestation and species decline. She merely (ab)uses these issues to trick concerned netizens into complacency and so continue (and even increase) their consumerism.