Editorial staffers at Plastics News pride ourselves on industry knowledge and going beyond what's written in a news release. Not that we don't read and use these releases put out by companies, government agencies, industry lobbyists and nonprofit groups, but we always try to get more information, such as an interview, background, context or — at a minimum — checking our own archives and websites to confirm the basics.
When we received a news release on Aug. 1 that "Mattel" was removing all plastic from its products by 2030, we were skeptical of the claim. Editor Don Loepp's immediate reaction: "Can this be real?"
Spoiler alert: It was not.
Mattel Inc., obviously, uses plastic for Barbies, GI Joes and thousands of other toys. Even if the company switched to a bio-based feedstock, it would still be a plastic. (And no one is producing bioplastics at a rate that would supply a toy giant's manufacturing needs.)
But we started checking while also preparing for a story if it was true. First clue that there were issues was that the emailed news release was nowhere on Mattel's website, corporate.mattel.com. (The hoax site linked in the email was mattel.corporate.com.)
When PN's Bridget Janis did get an interview, she noted something didn't seem right.
It was all an elaborate hoax. Activists calling themselves the Barbie Liberation Organization created a news release and websites that closely mimicked the official ones.
A few news outlets — most notably the website for People magazine — did print stories based on the release, but by midafternoon the same day, the hoax was falling apart.