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. Hope

    It's so beautiful up there. Why risk polluting our environment when we cam convert to alcohol/methane through doing what this fine earth was meant to do... grow crops?

    Sugarcane, how sweet it is!

    July 19, 2012 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
    • someguy

      You could never make a permanent switch to growing combustibles for energy that would replace conventional oil. Those would-be energy growing crops are already in use to feed people. Maybe there could be a portion of crops grown to offset the oil demand, but feeding people (or feeding livestock to feed people) will trump energy use every time.

      July 19, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • @ not

      It needs to be said that I am a troll, too.

      July 19, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Pete

    Greenpeace has always been a pain in the ass to anything environmental,even going as far as erecking a 30 foot casket outside our job while in shutdown mode at Fermi Nuclear Plant in Monroe,Michigan years ago.They also managed to climb a security fence and hang a banner off the 600 ft cooling tower,what freakin idiots,they could've been shot over a banner,real numbskulls...

    July 19, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
  3. Oliveoil

    Who would have thought tree huggers could be so darned funny?

    July 19, 2012 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
  4. nonviolentconflict

    Reblogged this on NonviolentConflict.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
  5. cc423

    For oil companies who receive MASSIVE amounts of federal dollars and at the same time reap MASSIVE corporate profits to refer to this as a scam is the height of hypocrisy.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  6. Dan Osborne

    Where the hell to these tree huggers thing that we are going to get oil from. If not there then we will have to ship trillions of dollars to the arab countrys.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
    • phunk

      Maybe they would prefer alternative energy sources? How's that for a thought? And not everyone who is against petro-chemical use is a "tree hugger" by the way. I'm a Vice-President of Investments at a huge firm and I can't stand big oil. I and my firm make so much money off futures speculating so I can tolerate it but for my children and my grandchildrens sake I would rather we start getting away from it. Because guess what: its only going to continue to get more expensive and I can also make money off green technology.

      July 19, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jim

    "snarky"? Come on Thom, grow up.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Angry Annie

      Phunk, the only thing you are VP of is sitting on your azz and stuffing your fat face.

      July 19, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jck

    I LOLed. It's funny.

    I drive a Kia. It costs me less gas, and was 1/3 of the price of a Suburban. And if I need a big vehicle to move something? U-Haul...$19.95 a day.

    Common sense: America's lost concept. 🙂

    July 19, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • PantyRaid

      Eh... talking points like those are getting old because most Americans are driving those less and went to more economical vehicles. Just look at fuel demands. We're using less now than four years ago because everyone is broke or unemployed.

      July 19, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  9. Hugh Jass

    Greens are too nasty to be a legit political party. Now I have to take Shell Oil's side, thanx.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • EndTheHate

      That's a good sheeple.

      July 19, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Carl Ross

      Open your eyes. We aren't nasty, we are trying to get through to thickheaded nitwits, like you, who don't understand the inevitable consequences of drilling in the Arctic. One can argue that each political party has a selfish agenda of its own. Environmentalists are fighting for NOTHING but the planet that SUSTAINS ALL OF US. If this planet continues on the trend it is going, it will be UNLIVABLE for the ENTIRE HUMAN SPECIES.

      July 19, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  10. bvilleyellowdog

    Scam? No good fun.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  11. conrad shull

    The French know how to deal with Greenpeace – the right way.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  12. Jim

    Love how these people who support Greenpeace and all of those other environmental groups enjoy their plastics and everything else that is derived from petroleum. Reducing the expenditure of oil? Great! Completely eliminating it? Unlikely. Tell me how the world is supposed to immediately desist the use of such things.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Carl Ross

      I'm an environmentalist, and I, too, believe that it is unrealistic to completely eliminating the expenditure of oil. However, the FACTS are that drilling in the Arctic will cause extreme environmental issues that will impact NOT JUST the environmental groups, but EVERYONE! Yes, that means YOU and the CEO's and CFO's of oil companies, and extreme Rightists.

      The Arctic is too fragile to be messed with right now. Oil is limited to begin with, if we exploit it at the rate we currently are right now, we will hit a point where we will have to live without such 'pleasures' that are derived from petroleum.

      July 19, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  13. EndTheHate

    You really should not talk about your daughter like that.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  14. little mister©

    I support green energy but will still vote Republican come Nov.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • thewhyteman

      You mine as well vote for a Dem. It's all the same.

      July 19, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • corpsman

      A half million dead Iraqis and 4,500 dead US troops would say you're wrong.


      "You mine as well vote for a Dem. It's all the same."<<

      July 19, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ArthurP

    "Greenpeace, moving us back to the Dark Ages one ad campaign at a time."


    July 19, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Anonymous

      With your help, we can make ice a thing of the past.
      Nice dude...

      July 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
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