July 19th, 2012
09:09 AM ET

Is Greenpeace's prank on Shell oil a 'scam'?

By Thom Patterson, CNN

(CNN) - If there's an official ranking for snarkiness, Greenpeace and the Yes Lab have got to be near the top this summer. Their snarky social media mash-up takes Greenpeace's campaign against Shell Arctic drilling to a whole new level.

It's a fake Shell website that encourages supporters to create ads that mock Shell's offshore drilling effort and to sign an anti-drilling petition.

Greenpeace teamed up with Yes Lab in June to create the fake website.

No matter which side you favor regarding offshore Alaska oil drilling, watching this fight is just plain fascinating.  Just make sure you get out of the way when the fur starts flying.

The Greenpeace/Yes Lab social media campaign clearly points to a strategy to succeed in a cacophonous Internet where it's increasingly harder to be heard and credibility is often called into question.

Although Shell is none too happy, calling the campaign a "scam," Greenpeace says it has received no legal action from Shell nor threats of legal action.

Here's a sample of these mocking fake Shell ads:

"Unfortunately, we won't be able to take these icebergs with us to hell. Let's go."

This fake Shell ad was posted on arcticready.com

You may remember Yes Lab - and the Yes Men, anti-corporate hoaxers who were the subject of a 2003 documentary.

In June, Greenpeace and Yes Lab staged a fake party at Seattle's Space Needle made to look like a botched celebration for Shell. Viral video from the event also raised a lot of eyebrows.

"Just in case there is any remaining doubt, Shell did not host, nor participate in an event at the Space Needle," the oil company said in its statement. "The video does not involve Shell or any of its employees."

Asked whether the Greenpeace site is libelous, media officer Travis Nichols says it's "obviously satire" intended as "identity correction" of Shell's own pro-drilling information campaign.  "We are taking the facts of what they're doing and putting it in a straightforward way - obviously using humor."

If this sounds a bit familiar, a fake Twitter account called BPGlobalPR became a short-lived social media darling after 2010's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Here are some of BPGlobalPR's greatest hits.

But what responsibilities - if any - do advocacy groups have to keep their online debates credible, authoritative, fair and above-board? Is satire - or even outright deception - a more powerful tool for winning hearts and minds? Or does blowback from that strategy pose too big a risk for an embarrassing PR disaster?

In a written statement, Shell encourages a "spirit of intelligent debate" about a "serious topic."

(Warning: here comes a "Batman" reference.) To  quote The Joker: Why so serious?

Here's why: The stakes are high - 27 billion barrels high.

That's how much oil the U.S. government estimates might be in the region, and that's what's got Shell spending billions to get at it.

In her series "Cold Wars," CNN's "OutFront With Erin Burnett" takes a deep dive into the Alaska offshore drilling controversy in a series of reports from the Arctic Circle airing at 7 p.m. ET today.

Related story: Drilling: From 'hell no!' to ... 'OK'

CNN commenter Jared Woody welcomes Shell's drilling efforts. "As an Alaskan, I can tell you that many support oil exploration up here. Oil has kept our economy stable while the Lower 48 has tanked."

Nope, drilling off Alaska is too risky, says CNN.com commenter Thomas Fox. "There are too many viable energy alternatives available now rather than to risk another BP Horizon-type catastrophe in one of the last pristine places left."

University of Minnesota law expert William McGeveran told Forbes that the law surrounding fake websites is "murky," but traditionally Shell "would have a pretty good case."

For what it's worth, Greenpeace offers an official description of its tactics on its website.

It says Greenpeace promotes "informed debate" and the use of "high-profile, non-violent conflict to raise the level and quality of public debate."

Does its fake website fall under that description? "We think it does," says Nichols.

Another fake Shell ad posted on arcticready.com

Does Greenpeace want to apologize if anyone was fooled into thinking the website was an authentic Shell site? Nichols didn't offer an apology when asked. "I think people will take it the way they want to take it."

"What we’re finding is that people who thought it was real and then discovered that Greenpeace and the Yes Men were behind it are overwhelmingly positive about the campaign."

Shell says, "we care that people are not deceived," in its statement.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace says it's over the moon about its new strategy. From Monday through Wednesday of this week, it says arcticready.com  has racked up nearly 800,000 page views. The anti-drilling petition has grown to more than 10,000 signatures, Nichols says.

What social media tactics are next for the merry online pranksters of Greenpeace and Yes Lab?

"Right now, there are a few things in the works, but I'm not going to be able to tell you about them," Nichols says. "The aspect of surprise is important."

What do you think? Is the Greenpeace/Yes Lab anti-drilling campaign beyond the pale? We want to know. Tell us in the comment section below. 

soundoff (186 Responses)
  1. Batman

    We need to work in 100% electric power for vehicles... Eventually, we will find the hidden gems of that power. Electricity is more important then gasoline!!

    July 19, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • NLockAK

      Doesn't quite pertain to oil, but I think you get the picture. Electricity is not the most precious resource, it is how we get the electricity.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marv Volz

      And what's used to generate electricity? Mostly, by a huge margin, fossil fuels like oil & gas.

      July 20, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. twistedpuppet

    I find it hilarious that Shell is taking to heart an old saying, "If you give a person enough rope, they'll hang themselves."

    July 19, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Nancy

    satire ,A text or performance that uses irony, derision, or wit to expose or attack human vice, foolishness, or stupidity.
    Kudos to Green Peace.

    July 19, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jedo

    Greenpeace IS a scam.
    I hope that humans will finally look through the hype and see them for who they really are and have been for a while now.

    July 20, 2012 at 6:46 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. mfbt

    Right now in America you have children being kidnaped, tortured & God knows what else. people going hungry, no jobs,
    drought condition in the midwest.
    all kinds of greed in the government. education is a joke in the US.....my list could go on forever...

    AND YOU GLACIER HUGGING PEOPLE ARE WORRIED OVER WHO IS HARVESTING OIL IN A LAND OF ICE & SNOW......
    Think about this; if the everyday conditions of this world don't change, no one will need oil, fresh air or food.

    July 20, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. DP

    I'm still mad about the Eat More Kale fiasco. At least that was an actual action with actual harm. I'll just practice some tolerance over some guy stating his beliefs.

    July 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Jeff of Peoria

    You leftist tree hugging hypocrits. You're using oil and coal right now running your computers. Why don't you just move to the forest but don't take any clothes or tents w/ you. They're made w/ oil.

    July 21, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • mrhapiguy

      Not for nothing, but we don't have much of a choice. I pay more for my power so that it is sourced by the most renewables as possible, I drive a hybrid, avoid Made in China products whenever possible, etc. Those of us that care, do what we can. We have no illusions though, just little choice in many aspects of life. It is not hypocrisy. I grit my teeth every time I fill up my tank, believe me.

      July 21, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. mrhapiguy

    I find it amusing that climate change will essentially make all the red states a desert. I am in the "liberal" northeast, and it is still quite lush around here.

    Coincidence?

    July 21, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Top Cat

    Reality check deal with the addiction, as long as the world continues to consume energy to the tune of 85 million barrels of oil per day, someone will supply, if not Shell, then who? Shell is one of, if not the most responsible when dealing with new technologies that will be required to safely produce oil from this region

    July 21, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Les Too

    Shell and the other fossil fuel industries cannot be labeled as "responsible" in any way. IF they were responsible they would have shifted production to non-fossil fuel energies long ago. They would not have left western African nations in the ecological mess they are in. The fossil fuel industry in general has millions of acres in unused leases far away from the Arctic.

    Further leasing should be halted until they develop (or divest themselves of) the ones they already hold with a dollar per dollar investment plan in green technologies. Combined with the redirection of government corporate welfare money received into clean and green technologies and a rapid phasing out of internal combustion engines, it is the responsible thing to do. There is no need for private transport that goes over the posted speed limit and no need for it to be powered by fossil fuels of any sort.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Niyol45

    The media needs to quit legitimizing nuts like Greenpeace. They routinely engage in illegal strongarm tactics. "Activist" has become the new buzzword for Criminals.

    July 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. slaythedonkey

    vote for Obama! He will get rid of messy coal and petroleum, and then we will be liberated from our jobs and independence!

    July 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. basefare

    Greenpeace is out of line. Oil companies have a right to do what they're doing whether we or Greenpeace like it or not. Shell Oil makes my car go Varoooom when I push the pedal and I like that.

    July 24, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Richard

    For all those who are commenting saying that Chick-fil-A's views are bigoted and judgmental and only God can judge... you have easily forgotten something called the Bible, which is God's word, which clearly spells out right and wrong. We (Christians) reflect God and His word. Don't break the mirror for what it reflects, just like you shouldn't shout "You're judging" every time a Christian or an organization stands up for something that is against the Bible.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse | Reply
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