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Barbie EcoWarriors: How A Fake 'Green' Doll Campaign Fooled The American Media

Media outlets fell for an elaborate hoax that claimed Mattel, the toy company that owns the Barbie doll brand, was removing plastic from its production process. The campaign was coordinated by a group calling itself the Barbie Liberation Organization. According to its website, the org is "an underground network of creative activists," and its plan was to capitalize on the success of director Greta Gerwig's "Barbie" movie to draw attention to the ecological and climate impacts of plastic use in consumer goods like Barbie dolls.

Barbie Liberation Organization staged a series of fake ads and press releases claiming that a new, plastic-free "EcoWarrior Barbie" modeled on climate activist Greta Thunberg was entering production using mushroom-derived, biodegradable materials. The announcements also claimed Mattel would be plastic-free by 2030. Outlets including The Washington Times and People published articles about the supposed product launch, even though some of the Barbie Liberation Organization's press materials included details that should have raised editorial eyebrows. Among other things, the materials fabricated the existence of a "Pussy Riot Accessory Pack" for EcoWarrior Barbie that included, among other things, zip cuffs and Molotov cocktails. Meanwhile, the staged video advertisement showed girls using the EcoWarrior Barbie to play-act sabotaging an oil pipeline.

According to The Washington Times, the outlet's staff was fooled by a range of tactics that included spoofed email addresses and fake Mattel websites. Additionally, Barbie Liberation Front created a fake advertisement featuring actor and climate activist Daryl Hannah promoting the EcoWarrior Barbie. Mattel soon responded, confirming the whole affair as a hoax.

Barbie Liberation Organization says Barbie contributes to environmental issues

While the EcoWarrior Barbie does not exist, the issues Barbie Liberation Organization hoped to highlight by falsifying its existence are quite real. As noted by the United Nations, the amount of plastic offloaded into oceans and other public waters each day would fill 2,000 garbage trucks. Plastic is made from fossil fuels (comprising about 6% of oil consumption, per the MIT) and does not degrade, meaning the Earth cannot naturally absorb it. But small amounts of plastic, called microplastics, do break down, working their way into natural ecosystems and even human food and water supplies. Toys, notably dolls like Mattel's Barbie line, contribute heavily to the problem.

As for who's behind the Barbie Liberation Front, the group has existed since at least 1993, when children were shocked on Christmas morning to find that their new G.I. Joe toys said, "Let's go shopping!" while Barbie toys yelled, "Eat lead, Cobra!" Barbie Liberation Organization took credit for that particular prank, saying the goal was to reframe conversations about gender roles.

It's unclear how many of the same people are involved in the current iteration of the organization. Heavily featured in Barbie Liberation Organization's marketing materials for the EcoWarrior Barbie stunt is the logo of the guerrilla environmental activist collective Just Stop Oil, the front responsible for stunts including the splashing of tomato soup on a Van Gogh painting at the National Gallery in London last fall.

During a Barbie Liberation Organization press conference on Tuesday explaining their stunt, Nadya Tolokonnikova, a member of the punk band Pussy Riot, said, "Right now, while Hollywood is congratulating themselves on saying the word 'patriarchy' and using the color pink, the heroes I look to are busy getting their hands dirty."