How SumOfUs Manipulate and Deceive Vulnerable People

See the French translation

Among the congregation of the Cult of Naturopathy, there are many different types of believers.

  • A large number of the flock are good people who try to do right for themselves, for the planet and others. They are confused by a lot of the mixed messages from the media, with complicated statements from scientists and regulators (on food safety, vaccines, pharmaceuticals …) raising uncertainties. They feel vulnerable and seek trust on social media from readily available naturopathic gurus.
  • There are those elitists who gather to worship in their Sunday finest, show others their elevated stature and occupy the front pews as they express themselves through privileged foodie diets and luxury lifestyle decisions.
  • In the pulpit we find the gurus (the high priests) whose preaching skills sustain and enlarge the flock via a mixture of fire and brimstone fears and hope for salvation through a better way (natural, chemical-free, without corporations…). Like any fundamentalist church, the stronger the sermon, the fuller the collection baskets become.
  • Supporting all of this is the naturopathic cult hierarchy, delivering the goods and services to the faithful (the organic retailers, brands, homeopath supplement producers, media outlets, film producers and back-offices). As the cult grows in prominence, these marketing organisations profit well giving the followers exactly what they crave: hope and redemption.

Outside of the marketing managers in retail and food brands, these are all people who mean well and truly believe (in a sadly misinformed manner) that natural is best and we would all be better off if we limited the inputs of modern science and technology.

Naturopathy would be a peaceful religion, able to coexist with others, were it not for a last group: the zealots. These are the activists who feel they have a higher calling and believe there is a holy war going on. They do battle against industry, science, regulators and anyone who may question the purity of their faith-based system. These dogmatic fundamentalists answer to a different (Machiavellian) standard where honesty, evidence and integrity are secondary to winning and growing the flock through whatever manipulative means available.

gillam and portierThe absolutely abhorrent consequences of their campaigns (economic decline, increased deaths, diseases, deficiencies…) do not concern these activists – only the continued adherence to the purity of dogma and the removal of any threats to their eco-eschatology. These zealots are ethically despicable, relentless, manipulative and cunning.

Too many churches turn a blind eye to the misbehaviour of the fundamentalists and zealot activists given how they enrich the organisation with followers, revenue and passion. I, however, have little tolerance for the naturopathic zealots. While I have recently felt the force of their outrage, I believe the more the practices of these mean, detestable individuals are exposed, the better the opportunity to develop a stronger, more harmonious faith system for those in need.

SumOfUs, Wolves and Liars

The most lamentable zealot activist group, by far, has to be SumOfUs. This “anti-interest group” interest group claims 15 million members and will show up anywhere hard-left anti-corporate opportunities may arise. They are a good example of the new generation of activism – small, quick, moneyed and unaccountable. Their employees work in digital communities from their living rooms around the world. Without a core central office, SumOfUs has evidently not developed an internal culture. Such a culture is important if you wish to instill values like honesty or fairness. Without an internal culture, you risk having a group of semi-independent activists running around lying their asses off.

This New York-based group has mastered the art of crowd-funding at the micro-level asking large numbers of followers for small donations of a couple dollars per issue campaign. Of course their real money lies in foundations with deep pockets like George Soros, but they’d rather keep that quiet and pretend that you and me (the golden “we”) are truly the ones speaking up for humanity. The “office” has grown rapidly, but of the 36 paid staff, 16 have nothing to do with issues or campaigns (mostly software engineers and data analysts). These cadres merely follow the numbers and implement the ICT tools to harvest donations. They take the same models and just plug in different alarmist vocabulary to whatever issue the data tells them is lucrative.

I saw the extent of how SumOfUs was hated by the scientific community when I shared a link on Facebook to their campaign to force the German rail company to stop using glyphosate to control vegetation along the rails. The herbicide is used to prevent train accidents and potential loss of life from poor visibility and hidden obstacles on the tracks. SumOfUs did not provide an alternative safety solution to protect more than 33,000 km of German rail lines. None was needed as their focus groups assured them this dogmatic purity would work well among the generous German flock.

Glyphosate, Monsanto, Bayer and neonicotinoids have been favourite money-spinners of this activist pit-bull, so it should come as no surprise that the Risk-Monger is on the SumOfUs mailing list (making me, gulp, a member or “OneOfThem”). But something happened yesterday that set me off.

“The Death of Bees”

I receive many emails from SumOfUs, and quite frankly, I am always fascinated, not only by the narrative they have locked themselves in, but also at how they try to manipulate and exploit their own followers … squeezing the innocent and confused for every nickel and dime they can get. Yesterday I received an email with the Subject line: The Death of Bees. “Oh dear,” I thought, “… that sounds rather dire. I had better go and have a look at what just happened to the hardest working species on the planet!”

share-if-you-careWell, nothing happened, but that’s not the point. What I found was an email so cunningly crafted, so exuberantly exploitative and crassly manipulative that I thought it would be a shame not to do an analysis as a blog. How many millions of people received this email? How many shared their nonsense on social media? How many donated to their campaign of falsehoods? It boggles the mind. And as I have been working on a blog entitled: “How to talk to your sister-in-law at Christmas” (due out in November), I can imagine many people are regularly frustrated receiving messages like this sent to them by caring loved ones (“Share if you Care!”). Maybe, I thought, this blog could help wake up some of these sister-in-laws.

First let’s examine the letter before presenting some further evidence of how truly despicable SumOfUs are.

It all comes down to “you”!

The opening of the letter, before we even get to a salutation, is in bold, screaming out the key message of fear and urgency:

1

Those evil lobbyist from the chemical industry are “working hard” to overturn your victory to ban the “bee-killing pesticides”. This is frightful: hard-working lobbyists wanting to kill bees right at this very minute. But SumOfUs can defend the bees, defend us and take on these awful people … only, however, if they get your help (ie, cash). This is what I would call the “World Vision” technique (creating an alarmist situation of heightened outrage and putting the solution solely on the privileged individual watching the programme) and it worked very well separating late-night TV watchers from their money for more than a generation.

Good communicators know that evil needs a face. Monsanto is gone so the new poster-boy of hate seems to be Bayer, but SumOfUs is uncomfortable limiting the hate to a company that is also a widely used pharmaceutical brand, so they refer to them as “Bayer and Co”, emphasising the corporate nature. SumOfUs members hate corporations so that suffix will probably be repeated until the brand is reviled.

The message is clear in the first four lines: if I want to stop evil lobbyists and save the bees, I will have to donate. One simple click and the problem will be resolved “immediately”.

Then the letter starts:

2

Notice the use of language: “we had an incredible win” thanks to “members like you”. It is wonderful, truly wonderful what we have achieved and you, David, should feel very good about yourself! Positive vibes at the outset, including me personally involved in the solution that was, well, just incredible. I’m feeling rather good about this (and therefore ready to give).

Bayer and friends (what happened to “and Co”?) – the evil “they” just “hate that we’re winning”. I don’t feel smug that we are winning – rather I wonder why those evil lobbyists in Bayer are so vindictive about our wish to save the bees (and the world). We are the good ones, they are the evil ones in this “Us versus Them” narrative of global struggle (remember, it’s a war). In the naturopath cult vision, being hated by industry is a sign you are saving the world.

They mention “our partners” because, in reality, SumOfUs do not actually do very much on the policy ground. They are there to take credit for other groups’ achievements and for situations where activists did not actually win anything (their huge victories in the Baysanto and glyphosate campaigns were not quite wins … actually … they lost). Facts do not matter in cult dogma.

But you know, if “we” are winning as they claim, then I won’t donate to their little organisation. Therefore I need a threat – something to scare me into my online wallet.

3

Yikes! Just imagine “cashed-up lobbyists” … “working around the clock” to kill our bees. The “Them” are up to their evil ways, and the “We” can’t let this happen. We have to act, because if we don’t, no one will protect the bees. The “World Vision technique” adapted to an online world – made easier, widespread and cheaper.

That “We” includes me, which is time for the second “Ask”: Will you chip in? Chipping in is such a nice way of saying: “Give me your cash now!”. At the end of a pleasant night out, we all chip in for the food and beer. What’s a couple extra euros among friends? It’s not a lot really (until you multiply it by 15 million members).

Salvation is just a click away!

4

In twelve lines, I have seen two “asks” and the word “Donate” eight times. At this point, the solution is clear: I donate a little money to SumOfUs with one simple click and they take on evil on my behalf, beat back corporations once again, and make me feel good about myself! Sweet!

Of course, fundraising is an art (probably the greatest marketing skill in the world: to get money from clients in return for nothing) and any clever hack knows the key to making donors feel good is empowering them with a choice in their donation. In my Retail Marketing course, I teach students that there must always be three options: a cheap model, an expensive one, and the one in between you are aiming to sell. So this campaign is aiming to get €4 donations from each member (and maybe a few generous “other” donations from the angrier “Us”).

Mea culpa time. Careful readers will have noticed in this letter that I actually have an account with SumOfUs and that a simple click (with my payment information on file) will result in an immediate gratification. Indeed, as the Risk-Monger is fully aware he is going to go to hell when he dies, what damage could come out of making a few donations to this vicious pack of wolves?

A few donations??? Plural??? Christ, David, you’re killing us!”

In my defence, it was for research purposes. By donating to SumOfUs (on different membership accounts, on different issues and different donation levels), I can better study their exploitative techniques on those they have profiled as “opportunities”. This letter came to the account of mine that gave a basic donation of €2 on pesticides. They are trying to double me up to the next level. I might just click “Donate €4” for instant gratification.

But donations have to be tied to feel-good events – If I’m going to double up to double down on industry, I had better be giving to a good cause. I want my evil shill-bucks to smell good! In the next lines, the “Us” reassures me:

5

It’s all about me! I have done so much to fight Bayer and their “fellow bee-killing chemical mega-corps”. The perception transition is complete. I’m starting to forget that I take one of Bayer’s life-saving medications every day. And my donation will allow my concerns to continue to have impact because the European Commission is listening to me!

But all of this could be lost if I don’t get my wallet out. The third ask is the most intense. It’s do or die time (for bees, the planet, humanity …) and SumOfUs really do need me!

6

Not only am I needed, hell, my donation is indispensable.

The issue is finally mentioned on page two of their email: sugar beet farmers in Belgium want to be exempted from the neonic ban (and maybe Dutch farmers might do the same). There are no mega-corp lobbyists here and sugar beets don’t flower so no bees are affected. But SumOfUs know that facts don’t matter and their members are sadly uninformed about issues. They can say whatever they want and no one would ever correct them. Just mention “Donate” 16 times in an email and fly first class for the next year.

SumOfUs even taunts its members’ ignorance outright in the next sentence.

7

They do not talk about this different kind of agriculture, but SumOfUs assure me that we can do away with corporations and the world will be much better. And besides, we farmed long before there was science … good enough for me

The big SumOfUs action, finally mentioned, will be simple. SumOfUs will put ads in newspapers in Belgium and the Netherlands. More donations, more ads. Remember a cardinal rule about fundraising: you need to have a measurable return on donation (in other words, providing a few screenshots of newspaper advertisements lets people know you have done something positive). This is not really much but SumOfUs likes to piggyback on “our partners” who are doing the heavy lifting in the anti-pesticide campaigns. They are merely the web engineers and data managers sending collection baskets throughout the congregation.

The focus has changed from the “you” to the “we”. That can only mean one thing: this mail is going for the elusive “Quadruple Ask”. Let’s start by making it personal:

8

This letter is aimed at vulnerable people who can easily be manipulated. Within the naturopath cult congregation, there are those who compulsively give to campaigns as a means to identify themselves with a perceived goodness. Those with a sad emptiness in their lives fall for the “We need your help” bullshit and give in. Like so many, I have a sister-in-law like this. She manages her “privilege guilt” by attacking the system (and these cunning NGOs are there to relieve her from her wealth). SumOfUs web donation strategists have profiled them and build their campaigns and communications on the weakness of vulnerable individuals.

Just one more click to save the bees!
Choose a box and your donation will immediately go to stopping big industry.
If you can just help us, we can continue to have incredible wins.

Such language is aimed to take advantage of compulsive people with weaknesses much like an unscrupulous drug dealer would push another hit on an addict. Promoting immediate gratification in an emotional context – that is my definition of exploitation.

There is something very vulgar and immoral about how these opportunistic wolves are fleecing the innocent, vulnerable naturopath congregation. Shouldn’t the gurus stand up and protect their supporters? Then again, SumOfUs shared out more than 4.6 million USD in 2016. Never mind.

The letter closes with a reaffirmation.

9

Before I give though, I need to be reminded about how good the fine people, Tom, Kat, Eoin and everyone at “Us” truly are. Evil needs a face, goodness needs a halo – these lovely people have first names, families and dreams just like me – they are our heroes! Nicely done.

The links are not to scientific sources about bees but to news organisations that only lightly refer to the key vocabulary the SumOfUs focus groups and data analysts determined would be effective. In fact, the English-language Dutch news regenerator (not even the original source) claims that sugar beets have no effect on bees, so even the source SumOfUs chose undermines what they are trying to raise a fuss about. There was no mention of lobbyists working around the clock or evil mega-corps – just Dutch farmers concerned about having to use a lot more pesticides to replace the banned neonics. In fact, the article states that the Belgian case to exempt sugar beets from the neonic ban was introduced by a government agriculture minister. Does SumOfUs consider government ministers as evil lobbyists or are they just making shit up to scare vulnerable people. Once again, facts don’t matter and the cadres at SumOfUs demonstrated they didn’t even bother to read their sources. Pathetic!

SumOfUs was knowingly lying on the following:

  • They were not responsible for any great wins they claimed (their partners did the work)
  • There were no “mega-corp” lobbyists in Belgium trying to steal our win (just a government minister)
  • The Dutch lobbyists “working around the clock” were farmers
  • Sugar beets do not flower and do not affect bees
  • SumOfUs did not speak to the European Commission (see below)

Meanwhile, their boilerplate lets us know how SumOfUs are working hard to “hold corporations accountable”.

10

After reading a letter like this, if you were quite naive you would imagine that SumOfUs is an open, honest and charitable organisation committed to doing what is right on behalf of humanity.

Holding corporations accountable would imply that SumOfUs think accountability is important. Today, being accountable is often considered as being transparent. I would imagine that SumOfUs, as the summation of humanity, must be quite transparent with what they do with all of our money.

Well, … No!

NoneOfYourDamnBusiness

SumOfUs is anything but transparent. Nobody knows how much they spend on their campaigns (seriously, how much will a few ads cost in local Belgian or Dutch newspapers?) and how much they spend on salaries, travel and networks. I have shown in an earlier blog how there is very little scrutiny of NGO financing and how these groups seem to be able to move cash from one group to another with no oversight.

So what does SumOfUs declare in the European Transparency Register? Curiously, as of today, they have not bothered to register.

ETI

SumOfUs doesn’t even pretend to be accountable or transparent. To be fair, before I accuse them of hypocrisy, maybe they did not realise, as a global organisation, that they would have to register and be transparent … you know, be accountable to the “Us” in Europe.

Well, … No!

Science communicator, Marc Draco, investigating American NGOs operating in Brussels, contacted the European Commission to raise the issue about SumOfUs’ lack of transparency, and this was the reply from the EU authorities in October 2017.

ETI 2

So SumOfUs were contacted last October to be informed they should register, and still they stuck their finger in the air at the European Commission. This implies they lied when they said the European Commission listened to “Us” since any meeting with Commission officials requires that the lobby group has completed an ETI registration. We have already established that SumOfUs don’t worry much about telling the truth. Neither, apparently, do the other gurus and NGOs who work with SumOfUs to attack unaccountable industries (like Martin Pigeon’s ragtag Corporate Europe Observatory). What a band of unethical hypocrites (transparocrites)!

What SumOfUs is actually saying is: We don’t care about your laws or ethical standards. We’ll raise our money how we want and use it how we see fit, and to hell with the rest of you. If that isn’t a good definition of an activist zealot, I don’t know what is.

Maybe your sister-in-law should be informed.

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