National PR service circulates—then pulls—release highlighting campaign to crash government website
BY: Morgan Chalfant
January 14, 2017 4:56 am
A leading public-relations service blasted and then removed a news release this week highlighting a campaign to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump by crashing WhiteHouse.gov.
PR Newswire, a global news-release distribution service, circulated a release on Thursday highlighting a campaign launched by Protester.io, a digital protest organizing platform, to “take down” the White House website next Friday in protest of Trump’s inauguration.
“On January 20th, hundreds of thousands of Americans are going to Washington, DC to march in protest of the inauguration of Donald Trump. Millions more around the country will be joining the cause from home. If you can’t make it to Washington DC on inauguration day, you can still participate by occupying whitehouse.gov online,” the release read.
“Why is it important to participate? Isn’t this just another election? We haven’t lost our democracy yet, but it is most definitely under threat. The only way we’re going to defend and revive our democracy is by mobilizing.”
Protester.io describes itself as a platform that helps individuals “organize protests like a crowdfunding campaign.” A description of the Inauguration Day protest on its website, named “Occupy WhiteHouse.gov,” instructs interested parties to go to the White House website on Jan. 20 and refresh the page as often as possible throughout the day. The page also includes instructions for protesters to “automate” page refresh so that their computers do this automatically.
“When enough people occupy www.WhiteHouse.gov the site will go down. Please join us and stand up against this demagogue who is threatening our democracy and our security,” the protest page states.
Shortly after blasting the news release, PR Newswire issued a correction, changing the headline of the release from “Protester.io Launches Campaign to Take Down WhiteHouse.gov on Inauguration Day” to “Protester.io Launches Campaign to Voice Your Opinion at WhiteHouse.gov on Inauguration Day.” Later, the news-release service removed the press release entirely.
PR Newswire was purchased by Cision, a global public relations software company based in Chicago, for $841 million from British business events organizer UBM in 2015. PR Newswire is based in New York and distributes public relations messages for companies largely located in the United States and Canada, according to the New York Times.
When contacted, a spokesman for Cision confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon that the original release had been modified and later removed entirely “after further evaluation.”
“The issuer modified the original release at our request, but after further evaluation, we ultimately decided to remove the release in its entirety and have requested that the rest of our network remove the content as well,” Stacey Miller, director of communication for Cision, wrote in an email Friday afternoon.
An organizer for the protest did not respond to a request for comment.
Federal investigators have probed what are called distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attacks, which block users from websites by overloading them with traffic. Such attacks brought down Twitter, Spotify, and Amazon last October, prompting investigations by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.
It is unclear whether the planned “Occupy WhiteHouse.gov” protest campaign would constitute a DDoS attack. Attempts to reach the FBI on Friday were unsuccessful.
Several protests have been organized around Inauguration Day, including the “Women’s March on Washington” that is expected to draw some 200,000 women to the nation’s capital on Jan. 21, the day following Trump’s inauguration. Fox News reported that protesters are also planning to blockade security checkpoints at the inauguration and organize a “dance party” outside the home of Vice President-elect Mike Pence.