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. Emigdio Alvarez

    Breaking News: Greenpeace successfully trolls Shell. personally, i'm on Greenpeace's side. didn't Shell learn anything from BP's mess in the gulf?

    July 19, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • lest we forget

      no, a big multi-national corp that still takes rebates from a government that can't employee or educate its people, or give them good healthcare or only cares about wars not its people, is a stupid corp or should i say person? if they are a person someone should arrest them on murder charges. how many people have died because of shell oil? god only knows.

      July 19, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  2. svann

    Just as it is illegal in Iran to make fun of Muhammed, now its going to be illegal to make fun of our corporate sponsors. Nationalism + Corporatism = Fascism. Look it up.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      "Our" corporate sponsors? Royal Dutch Shell is a Dutch and British owned company. Look THAT up.

      July 19, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Trigger

      Looked like to me Shell took it in stride- no lawsuit over fake website and no lawsuit over the mock Shell party at Space Needle. I fail to see where you got the idea it was illegal. Read it again, without the bias in your mind.

      July 19, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  3. ArchieDeBunker

    I have had several "conversations" with the people Green Peas hires to stand on the street and harass people. The most notable was the one where the young man pointed up in the sky at a jet vapor trail and insisted that "they" (?) were purposefully putting some kind of chemical in the fuel that would fill the skys with stuff to stop global warming. When I asked him what he proposed to do instead of using petroleum products for our energy needs he replied with a shrug "Hey, man, me and my buds are gonna start raising our own food!" When I asked where he thought he would get the land to raise this food on he looked at me with a look of total surprise, shrugged, and turned away. I called after him that I hoped he enjoyed his starvation, but he just dismissed me with a wave and walked away. SOO typical.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Syfre

      I understand that most greenpeace/hippies are uneducated on energy and technology, but there are several viable energy sources besides the natural gas/petroleum that are currently used. We cannot instantly stop using petroleum but currently we seem to be abandoning all efforts to move away from it. One of the most essential things is the development of electric transportation. We would still be using oil based processes to create most of the electric energy, but it gives a more fluid transition from oil to any other method of electrical production. One of the most important infrastructure moves the government can make is to move much of the emergency services onto a non-oil consistent energy source such as wind and dam power. Finally and the most promising large scale production of bio-diesel from algae farms. I find it funny that those who are usually so damning of the US debt crisis don't realize that our current energy production methods are very similar, and just kicking the problem down the road just a little further.

      July 19, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Anomic Office Drone

    Trolling accomplished. Good job, Greenpeace!

    July 19, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  5. Anonymous

    The sad part is, this isn't really libel. Its truth. The drilling could potentially utterly annihilate one of the last untouched places of the earth left, all for corporate greed. There are hundreds of other energy options that we just haven't explored yet, and letting any company do this is beyond wrong.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • KTrostel

      It's not TRUTH. It is one POSSIBLE outcome. No one knows the FUTURE. But if you are so concerned with the melting ice caps – When can we have the power and water companies disconnect you from the grid? While their at it, can the impound your car? You should be proud to do these things – you'll be saving the planet. BTW, what energy source is powering the internet site that is hosting these Green Peas websites? A bit hypocritical Me Thinks!

      July 19, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MNfree

    Using the internet and technology to bash the energy that made the internet and technology? Sounds legit!

    July 19, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  7. RealityCheck

    If you're old enough that you won't be around long enough to feel the effects of oil pollution or climate change, you probably ought to be changing your Depends diaper. You stink!

    July 19, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  8. Jake Blues

    The tough part for the green crowd is a simple fact: oil is prevalent because it works like a champ. It's a pity hemp doesn't have the same BTU content per bushel that oil does in a few ounces. We can ring the continent six times with tidal generators. We can turns the plains into pin-cushion-looking fields of wind turbines. And we can pave the US southwest with solar panels. Go for it. But spend some time working on things like that in between humorous tweets.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jerome, Burlingame CA

    While GreenPeace is somewhat a fringe group, it's no more fringe than Shell oil. Both have dirty tactics and both don't really want to have substantive debates. They really want to tell you what they think and why you're wrong if you don't agree with them.

    That being said, GreenPeace doesn't destroy our environment or kill people through negligence and cost cutting efforts.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  10. Timmyb

    Has anyone at green peace considered that co2 is spewed out of our sodas and drinks at a pretty high rate each day when considered worldwide? This co2 is ManUFACTURED! Maybe we could attack them for a change.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  11. TomL

    Alternative energy is a joke in this country. I love how there is a campaign against the oil drilling, yet their the same people complaining paying over $3-4 a gallon at the pump.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. grumpy

    I'd like to have a SUV that runs on oil produced from ground-up Greenpeace activists.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe

      Soylent Greenpeace. nice.

      July 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. frallow

    I used to be a supporter and contributor of Greenpeace, back when they actually stood for the environment. Then their abandoned that and switched to a far-left, radical anti-capitalism agenda and they lost me.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |

    I'd like to have a SUV that runs on oil produced from ground-up Greenpeace activists.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. NOT

    NOT Thelma Lou Brickmore. Troll.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
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