I Am the World Trade Organization ... Or Am I?

The WTO gets spiritualized in a carbon-copy hoax site.

The announcement, posted May 20, 2002, on www.gatt.org, came as something of a shock:

"The WTO in its current form will be disbanded and transformed into the new Trade Regulation Organization, whose charter will be based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

The self-serving logic of the World Trade Organization has systematically angered most of the world's non-billionaire population over the seven years since it was created under the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The WTO (unofficial motto: "We hate dolphins, democracy, and the developing world") has unapologetically rejected nearly every state-sponsored environmental- or health-based trade regulation that has come under its review, and worked to reinforce economic apartheid in the face of a worldwide humanitarian crisis. So why the sudden change of heart?

Turns out it was just a prank: The announcement was posted on www.gatt.org, a convincing-looking "fun-house mirror" of the Web site of the real WTO. The mirror site was created with a program called Reamweaver (a spoof on a popular Web design application). By installing Reamweaver on your Web server, you can create a continuously updated duplicate of any existing Web site; the program copies the look and feel of the target site, but allows you to change the content to suit your personal agenda. The creators of GATT.org copied the design of WTO.org, but replaced much of the content with fake news related to the dissolution of the WTO.

Other Reamweaver-ed sites are more subtle, changing only a word or two here and there to create a more believable duplicate. One of the potential benefits of this is the opportunity to make public appearances on behalf of the organization you are mirroring. For best results, try to get a domain name that, like GATT.org, can be easily mistaken for the official Web site. Then, notify search engines that your site is the correct one. "Buy a secondhand suit," recommends the Reamweaver read-me file, "and prepare to represent your target organization in person."

In October 2000, an inattentive conference organizer sent a letter to GATT.org inviting a representative of the WTO to speak at a conference in Salzburg on international law. The creators of the Web site, a group called the Yes Men, politely accepted. The now-famous hoax culminated in a duplicitous Yes Men-sponsored speaker, who went by the name of Dr. Andreas Bichlbauer and argued to the 75 lawyers in attendance that Italians have a poor work ethic, that Americans should sell their votes to the highest bidder, and that the goal of the WTO is to create global monoculture. Not long after the conference, GATT.org reported that the (fictitious) Dr. Bichlbauer passed away as a result of a (nonexistent) infection that was contracted from a rotten pie that was allegedly thrown in his face at the conference, most likely by an angry Italian. More details can be found at www.theyesmen.org/wto/.

A word of warning: If you plan to try this at home, you are treading on some thin legal ice. Reamweaver's creators have a rather blithe outlook on the possibility of legal trouble: If you get in trouble with your ISP, school, or employer, they recommend that you "just say you were playing a funny surrealist game."

It would probably work for the esteemed Dr. Andreas Bichlbauer, but it may not work for you.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

WTO, GATT, World Trade Organization, WTO.org, GATT.org, Reamweaver, Yes Men, Andreas Bichlbauer

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