Voters seeking information about The Civil Sidewalks Coalition, the group backing Proposition L to establish a new San Francisco law against sitting and lying down on city sidewalks, might’ve gotten a shock if they visited CivilSidewalks.org instead of CivilSidewalks.com. The imposter web page was designed to look just like the official Civil Sidewalks campaign website, but includes a scathing description of the coalition as “NIMBYs, commuters, wealthy moguls, business associations and politicians” who “think it is our duty to rid San Francisco of poor people, the homeless and fun.”
Here's the description from the real Civil Sidewalks page:
Welcome to Civil Sidewalks. We are a grassroots group of families, residents and small merchants who believe that sidewalks should be a safe place for our children, elderly and disabled.
Unfortunately the people who encamp on city sidewalks are becoming increasing intolerant of people who are merely trying to walk by. This had led to threats, violence, and physical retaliation.
Here’s how the spoof site interpreted it:
Welcome to Civil Sidewalks. We are an astroturf group led by suburbanites, political consultants and wealthy business interests who believe that sidewalks should be a safe place for enjoyment of the few.
Fortunately some well-off people who walk on city sidewalks have had enough and are becoming increasing intolerant of poor people who are merely trying to take a break. We have taken to threats, fear-mongering, and distorting facts to promote our cause.
The guerrilla campaign tactic brings to mind pranks pulled by The Yes Men, who’ve ruined many a corporate executive’s day by issuing fake press releases and occasionally impersonating company representatives at highly publicized events. If there’s a moral to this story, it’s this: Buy up domain names that are similar to your organization’s web address, especially if it’s election season and you’re up against a cadre of crafty progressives with web-design skills.