“One of the principles underlying all of our work on the Web has been that we should be true to the spirit of New Shell. This means that we are seen to be open, listening, interested in the views of others…”: SHELL CENSOR – MARCH 1999
Shell Internet Censorship
By John Donovan
Printed below is a Shell internal email sent in March 1999. Shell was obliged to supply it to us in accordance with an application we made under the UK Data Protection Act. The “X’s” denote sections redacted (censored) by Shell, which includes the name of its author and apparently an extensive circulation list – 4 lines deep.
Although not mentioned in the still visible text, the author of the email was talking about the former “Tell Shell” Internet discussion forum once available on shell.com, until it was censored into oblivion.
Knowing of the involvement of Shell International General Counsel Richard Wiseman in the overt and covert censorship carried out on “Tell Shell” postings, we asked him if he was the author of the email. This was his reply yesterday, 22 February 2010:
Dear Mr Donovan,
I have no record or recollection of drafting or being involved in the drafting of the email you refer to. Since you claim it was written more than 10 years ago, this is not surprising. The style is not mine however and I do not believe that I am likely to have been the author.
As usual, I do not propose to comment otherwise on your draft and this should not be taken as acceptance of any of the assertions you make.
Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer
Royal Dutch Shell plc
Shell Centre, London SE1 7NA
We accept what Mr Wiseman says. Of course, since Shell carried out the blanking out process on the email, it could reveal all of the censored information, but has not offered to do so, even though Royal Dutch Shell CEO Peter Voser and Company Secretary Michiel Brandjes are fully aware of this article.
It is clear from the content that the author of the email was someone in control over the content of “Tell Shell”.
He or she claimed:
“One of the principles underlying all of our work on the Web has been that we should be true to the spirit of New Shell. This means that we are seen to be open, listening, interested in the views of others…”
Astonishingly, the author then goes on to try to provide a rationale behind the decision to remove 9 out of ten postings we made on “Tell Shell” and to say that if accused of censorship, Shell would argue that it had simply been trying to prevent us dominating discussions. The postings were also manipulated to make it less likely that forum users would visit our own website and be exposed to the full list of our allegations i.e. the truth.
Despite the claims of an open, censorship free discussion forum for lively debate, Shell did not want to entertain controversial postings. Hence the introduction of censorship on “Tell Shell”, providing an explanation on the forum whenever an unwelcome contribution was deleted.
Shell subsequently resorted to secret censorship, whereby postings vanished without trace or explanation. This underhand policy, involving Richard Wiseman, brought about what we described as: “The slow death of the Tell Shell Internet discussion forum”. After the secret censorship was exposed, Shell “suspended” the forum, as it turned out, permanently.
Not content with censoring “Tell Shell”, Mr Wiseman also wanted us to censor our website. The following is from an email he sent to us on 11 November 2005:-
The extraordinary tolerance shown to your internet activities ought to demonstrate better than anything else the fact that we are uninterested in, and unmoved by, your current activities. It is true that when your comments to “Tell Shell” overstep the bounds of honest comment and become vituperative or defamatory, we remove them. In this context, I suggest that the image on
be removed as a matter of urgency.
Some extracts from our response to Mr Wiseman…
The implied threat in your email regarding the satirical comments directed at President Putin, betrays Shells real attitude to freedom of speech on the Internet.
Thank you for the official confirmation regarding Shells censorship of the Tell Shell Forum. Such suppression of free speech is directly at odds with statements made by Shell on the forum inviting feedback and lively open debate in uncensored space. Since we have never posted any bad language on Tell Shell, the censorship relates entirely to our criticism of Shell and our accurate account of past events, supported by documents in our possession.
Having admitted to Shells censorship policy on the Tell Shell Forum, your next comments imply that Shell has rights or influence over what is published on RoyalDutchShellplc.com. I would respectfully point out that although you can censor postings on your website, you cannot censor commentary posted on ours. You have not mentioned the censorship of postings by other contributors to Tell Shell offering constructive criticism, including former Shell employees (with one such posting deleted in an underhand manner). As far as I am aware, none of the postings critical of Shell contained any bad language.
If you also read the information on the linked articles, it is clear that Richard Wiseman has been a driving force behind the machinations (trickery and censorship) over unwelcome critical postings on “Tell Shell”, which led to its demise and replacement by an unauthorized “Shell Blog”. I refer to the facility at royaldutchshellplc.com on which visitors can make positive or negative postings about Shell (or the Donovan’s), without being subjected to censorship.
In other words, people posting comments can rest assured that some self-serving lawyer is not controlling what is deemed sufficiently favorable to Shell to remain on display. Under the circumstances, perhaps Wiseman’s already lengthy job title should be expanded still further: Chief Censor, Ethics & Compliance Officer, Royal Dutch Shell Plc.
MAIN ARTICLE ENDS
A posting made on our Shell Blog by former Shell executive Paddy Briggs was noted with disdain by a Shell employee in an internal email sent on 25 June 2007, who stated:
FYI, Paddy Briggs latest contribution – I think he should choose his friends more carefully…
In the absence of “Tell Shell” I think that this is possibly the best forum for those of us who care about Shell and have informed opinions about the company to share with others. The Donovans perfume (subsequently corrected!) a very useful function and, whilst I don’t always agree with them, I do admire them and certainly do not question their motives or their integrity.
(Since we know the above posting was made by Paddy Briggs, we have inserted his name where it was previously redacted. BTW, we have never met or even spoken to Paddy Briggs, who is now a Trustee of the Shell Contributory Pension Fund.)
A Shell internal email sent earlier the same day contained a more enlightened view about postings on our website. Its author said: “I support Mr Donovan’s right to free speech – even if it is anti-Shell.”
THE SHELL INTERNAL EMAIL SENT IN MARCH 1999
Sent: 23 March 1999 10:54
Subject: FW: DONVAN
One of the principles underlying all of our work on the Web has been that we should be true to the spirit of New Shell. This means that we are seen to be open, listening, interested in the views of others and providing information which helps people to make their own minds up, not just thrust our opinions at them.
This is why, for several years, we have included links to the websites of organisations critical of Shell and have only removed contributions to the Website discussion fora if they were either:
a) abusive of individuals, or:
b) contained libellous material, where we didn’t wish to become involved in the legal implications of being a publisher:
Beyond that, we have deliberately not censored contributions, because this would simply have handed ammunition to our critics.
Before we launched the new campaign, we agreed that we should apply the same guidelines to the new campaign-related discussion fora. It was recognised that they might become targets for our critics, but if we claim to be interested in dialogue, then we need to be seen to be engaged in it and our arguments need to be seen to stand up for themselves.
In respect of Don Marketing, the monitoring of the fora quickly picked up that he had posted ten contributions and we decided to reduce it to one. If we were challenged, our argument would be that we had not censored, but had simply stopped him dominating discussions to the irritation of other users.
His one remaining contribution will be located in the Human Rights section at
http://www shell com/campaign/jssue/stage/1.1850.2.00.html
At the moment, this particular contribution of his is simply a link to his Shell Shareholders site. However, I have asked XXXXX to include Donovan’s text from one of his other postings so that people can see the essence of his case without having to go and enter his website and get the full list of his allegations. This will be done later this morning.
Shell International Limited, Shell Centre
London SE1 7NA, United Kingdom