A screen grab from the MyHairCares website.

A screen grab from the MyHairCares website.

News hoax misleads public on false Enbridge initiative

  • Mar. 15, 2011 11:00 a.m.

The group responsible for a media hoax which tricked some national news outlets to run a story about Enbridge using human hair as oil booms is — no joke — called PERM.

PERM, which stands for People Enbridge Ruined in Michigan, came clean on their involvement in a press release circulated last Wednesday, one day after their stunt had corporate communications officers and journalists pulling out their own hair trying to figure out fact from fiction.

PERM is a collaboration between a group called Yes Labs, an activist think-tank spin-off of a group called The Yes Men, and activists from Michigan.

The confusing saga began with an e-mail which bore the Northern Gateway Pipeline logo, claiming to announce a partnership between Enbridge and over 1,000 hair salons that would collect human hair to be used to soak up oil in the event of a spill.

“The formidable Enbridge hair reserve, fashioned into 30,000 4-metre booms, will be stored in numerous warehouses all along the Northern Gateway Pipelines’ 1,170-kilometre route,” the release stated.

A mock communications person for the company in the press release referenced the inevitability of oil spills from the project.

Countering that claim, real Enbridge spokesperson Gina Jordan said that spills are not inevitable and “while the probability is remote, Enbridge’s goal is to be a model of world class safety and environmental standards.”

The company was quick to issue a statement saying that the MyHairCares initiative was not, in fact, something their company was doing.

“It is not an Enbridge or Northern Gateway initiative, and Enbridge deplores this cynical attempt to take advantage of public concern about the environment,” said Jordan.

According to Sean Devlin of Yes labs the prank was successful in sparking the discussion they sought.

“It was pretty complicated but we feel like it went well,” he said. He pointed out that he’s starting to see additional media reporting on litigation in Michigan with Enbridge and the spill victims.

Sparking a discussion was really the intention.

“The hair thing was a joke but the conversation we really wanted to have was ‘well, what does Enbridge do after an oil spill?’”

The campaign idea was sparked two months ago during a meeting in Vancouver when members of the Yes Men came to hold a Yes Lab. Shannon McPhail, who works for Hazelton-based Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, attended the event, said Devlin.

McPhail was not immediately available by phone but is quoted in MyHairCares’ final press release.

“This was a funny way to dramatize the fact that neither Enbridge nor any other oil company can prevent spills, and that they basically have no cleanup plan,” said McPhail in the release, also identified as a spokesperson for PERM. “What’s happening in Michigan proves that.”

She said that Enbridge spends millions convincing people that there’s no problem and that “we had to be a bit clever to compete with that.”

As for the threat of legal action, Devlin is taking a ‘bring it on’ attitude.

“We don’t think they will take action against us because that would just give us a wonderful opportunity to keep talking about these issues,” he said.

However, “If they do decide to take legal action we’re kind of excited because we know their best lawyers won’t be on it, because their best lawyers are currently in Michigan fighting the oil spill victims over compensation.”