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Website censorship by Shell

There is nothing new about Shell taking steps to prevent its employees visiting so-called anti-Shell websites from Shell premises. A Shell internal email dated 31 August 2007 provides proof that Shell issued instructions that its employees must not visit this website. In fact, Shell has a history of censoring information critical of the oil giant that has been published on the Internet.

By John Donovan

Last week it was alleged that Shell blocked employee access to a fake Shell website set up by activists.

Under the circumstances, Shell was entitled to do so. Whether it was wise is another matter, as it drew attention to the website and its a safe bet that far more employees checked out the website later at home than would otherwise have been the case.

There is nothing new about Shell taking steps to prevent its employees visiting so-called anti-Shell websites from Shell premises. A Shell internal email dated 31 August 2007 provides proof that Shell issued instructions that its employees must not visit this website.

In fact, Shell has a history of censoring information critical of the oil giant that has been published on the Internet.

I am in possession of Shell internal emails expressing concern about Wikipedia articles containing information critical of the company. They contain internal potting/discussion about the possibility of being caught if Shell staff surreptitiously edited offending information. Shell was later caught doing exactly that by Wikiscanner technology.

Perhaps the best example of Shell’s censorship of negative information posted online, is what happened with an online facility it set up.

In 1998 Shell launched the “Tell Shell Forum,” a feedback facility on the Internet for its stakeholders and the public to engage in open debate about its activities.

This is a description of the facility by Clare Harris of Shell International:

Date: November 16, 1999 02:07 PM
Author: Clare.E.Harris ([email protected])
Subject: Our experiences with the internet dialogue

This forum is an uncensored space in which we want to hear your views about a variety of issues and about our approach to them. We created this forum so that people all over the world could have a conversation about these things and so that we could gain a better understanding of what your views are.  If you see a couple of the early postings in the ‘engagement and open communication’ thread you’ll see that a choice needs to be made about censorship – yes or no? And if yes, how much? We opted for the completely uncensored option. Our senior management have been very supportive of this forum and the openness of the debate. I believe people want to have open honest conversations with real employees and not with an anonymous helpdesk that dispenses a standard form letter.

Here is another description, this time by Shell lawyers in a Complaint about this website submitted to the World Intellectual Property Organisation in May 2005:

“Tell Shell Forum” is a facility set up in November 1998 to promote feedback from customers, shareholders or any other interested parties on topics and issues relating to Shell, and to enable the Complainant to respond to public concerns and criticism in an open and transparent way.”

And here is a posting on Tell Shell from Jon Hofmeister:

Date: June 07, 1999 03:49 PM
Author: John Hofmeister, Director of Human Resources
Subject: Communications within Shell

However, let me say that I strongly believe the people in Shell have an enormously valuable contribution to make to the key debates, and that the Group’s leadership is working very hard to promote open and honest communication within Shell, as well as with our external stakeholders. We genuinely do welcome all comments, positive and negative. We also believe that employees must be able to speak out without fear of rebuke or retribution. This website is in itself evidence that we are interested in seeking your views and willing to listen and respond.

These lofty ideals did not last very long.

Despite all of the above PR hogwash, Shell engaged in censorship of postings made on the forum (including surreptitious censorship) of comments made by individuals in their own names that contained no abuse or profanity.  Shell could not take the criticism and first suspended Tell Shell indefinitely, then closed it down altogether.

Shell promised to make the Tell Shell archive available online, but predictably failed to honour that promise also.

AS ALWAYS, WE HAVE PROOF TO SUBSTANTIATE WHAT WE SAY.

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