#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.
For several months now, a Twitter account named ‘Palm Oil Detectives’ (@palmoildetect) 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 claims to remain anonymous (see this link/mirror), and even its website contains no information on the identity of the person(s) behind it. This is often a clear sign something is very, very wrong with the claims made by the site and associated accounts.
Despite the attempts to stay anonymous, the person behind palmoildetectives.com left an abundance of clues online that took less than an hour to trace. In a now-deleted tweet, the account claimed to be an ‘independent wildlife activist based in Wellington’. Since the following clues will no doubt be scrubbed from the internet as soon as possible, links to their mirrors in the Wayback Machine have been added:
“I love helping businesses to grow through clever use of content of all kinds“
1) palmoildetectives.com links to a Twitter account named @palmoildetect; (see this link/mirror);
2) this account was set up by @contentcatnip (see this link/mirror);
3) older replies to posts on contentcatnip.com identify its main admin as Athena (see a.m.o. this link/mirror);
4) points 2-3 lead to Athena Dennis working at middlegroundmagazine.co.uk (see this link/mirror);
5) Athena Dennis listed her (now suspended) Twitter account as @athenadennis (see this link/mirror);
6) points 2-3 are confirmed in Middleground’s Facebook post, with the accompanying image right (see this link/mirror);
7) point 6 leads to a LinkedIn account with the same image and name (see this link/mirror); and
8) point 7 leads to athenacreativeweb.com (see the footer in this link/mirror).
“palm oil [actually] produces more oil per hectare than other oil crops making it better for the environment than coconut or rapeseed oil“
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 works her trade on social media. Note the various commercial domains listed above: palmoildetectives.com (point 1), contentcatnip.com (point 3), middlegroundmagazine.co.uk (point 4), and athenacreativeweb.com (point 8). And then ask yourself what a spin doctor has to gain from running a spin – either paid or unpaid. The more outrageous and successful that spin, the more her portfolio increases in value and the more clients she will attract.
“I love generating real monetary value for clients“
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 link/mirror. Clearly, she has a fair understanding of the issues concerning the palm oil industry and the role of the RSPO in transforming this industry. (This tweet was also deleted very recently, but the mirrored tweet is available in the Wayback Machine.)
Hi @palmoildetect this is a little misleading. Yes, Greenpeace takes a critical stance against certification schemes. But this is not a new position which your tweet implies and our relationship with each of the schemes has been different over the years.
— Emily Armistead (@goodcampaigner) August 16, 2021
With even Greenpeace calling her claims “a little misleading“, Athena Dennis’ professional details raise numerous alarms. More so in light of her massive efforts to scrub posts from Twitter and elsewhere to hide her conflicting interests and her track record with for-profit entities. It raises the question if one of these entities is secretly funding her, and which one that is. Only Athena’s own ethics will tell, but I won’t hold my breath for that to kick in.