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July 9, 1997|
When McDonald's executives in the United Kingdom filed a writ of libel against two unemployed London environmental activists, they could not have imagined that the ensuing trial would drag on for seven years, making it the longest trial of any kind in British history. Much less could they have imagined that the activists' leaflet, which criticized McDonald's environmental record, labor relations, and nutritional offerings, would become McSpotlight -- a Web site devoted, as it were, to frying Ronald McDonald in electronic grease.
Although the activists lost the trial -- in Britain, the burden of proof in libel cases lies with the defendants -- they have not been chastened by their defeat; instead, they are going head-to-head with McDonald's on the Web. McSpotlight shows how powerful a tool the Internet can be in the pursuit of determined, innovative activism.
McSpotlight is immense (all 19,000 pages of the trial transcripts and Justice Rodger Bell's 800-page ruling can be found here), but it is much more than a murky compendium of judiciary proceedings. The site offers internal McDonald's memos, scientific reports, quizzes, even plays and cartoons -- all casting Ronald's empire in a distinctly unfavorable light.
Perhaps the most interesting section of McSpotlight is a frames-equipped "guided tour" of the McDonald's Web site. That relentlessly cheery site is full of images geared toward children, basic nutritional advice, and vague environmental encomiums, and to visit it while the outraged folks at McSpotlight whisper in your ear is to experience an activist frisson once considered the sole province of Greenpeace zealots shadowing whaling ships and nuclear testers.
Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.