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. Jenn

    "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."

    Shell is spending billions for the sole reason to make a bigger profit down the line. Make no mistake – they don't give a damn about the enviornment or what their drilling will do to the natural habitats they will destroy. People need to learn that we have only been the dominant species on this planet for a heartbeat of the earth's life. If people really care about what their children and grandchildren will have to endure (i.e taxes and the deficit that certain people are always up in arms about), this is what will really effect them. Taxes are temporary, ruining the earth for the sake of profit is permenant and wrong.

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

      And don't think for a second they plan on saving it just for us in the US. If they can make an extra buck sending it to China, that's where it's going.

      July 19, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lagos

      In that case let's bankrupt the world economy building enough land-based solar cells and wind farms to replace our dependence on fossil fuels, because it's more fun to blow things out of context than keeping the state of renewable energy technology in the realm of reality. Solar cells are not cost-effective in the slightest. Research and practical use of solar cells are extremely important as the holy grail of solar technology are space-based solar satellites, however we're a long way away from that.

      July 19, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • thedrake

      lets all cry about big bad oil destroying the enviorment orrrrrr should we all cry that SOLYNDRA and just recently ANOTHER solar company went belly up

      July 19, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Fact Feed

    Shell says, "we care that people are not deceived." Yes - and al Qaeda's chief concern is to "assure the complete comfort and safety of every American, every Christian, every women in the world."

    What may have happened here, is that the Shell spokesman got cut-off in mid-sentence. Most likely the sentence originally read: "we care that people are not deceived - by anyone other than Shell." Shell spends enormous amounts of 'propaganda dollars' to deceive the public about the hazards and likelihood of tremendous environmental damages from their profiteering activities. Immense capital must be expended by Shell in order to deceive the public as they exploit the natural resources that belong to everyone, while handing the public, the taxpayers, the bill for the environmental disasters it leaves in its wake.

    Without the gross deception of the general public, how else could Shell ever get anyone to agree to confer ALL profits to Shell, exclusively, while shifting all risks, liabilities, and responsibility to the government, the taxpayers and to future generations of 'victims' yet to come?

    How gut-wrenching, repulsive and repugnant it is to hear Shell's disingenuous, impudent, Bad Faith expressions of concern about 'deception.'

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

      pointless argument. all companies, governments, religions, groups, and the average human being does that.

      July 19, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • tpbco

      Care to provide an example?

      July 19, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. NOT

    Again, NOT BOMBO. Troll.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. NIN

    Hey you greenpeacers when you start living a life style like the Amish, with no electricity, growing your own food, building your own homes, and never using a car, truck, bus, boat, plane. THEN come talk to me.

    But of course I'm sure you all have installed 50K worth of solar panels on your homes to run your house and charge up your 40K electric cars.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • corpsman

      In my book that's more responsible than buying a lot of Saudi Arabian and Venezuelan oil for an SUV.

      "But of course I'm sure you all have installed 50K worth of solar panels on your homes to run your house and charge up your 40K electric cars."

      July 19, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • At lease the PETA chicks are hot

      Green Peace;
      A minor annoyance since 1971.
      Let’s Go.

      July 19, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arlee

      Green Peace don't want you to live like the Amish, Make a bunch of small changes. What kind of person needs to live in a 4000, sq ft home. Especially when you have to heat and cool a dozen rooms you don't even go in to. Or who needs an Expedition when there is just you and your wife in it. Chances are you could not even round up 7 more friends that will travel with you at the same time. Eat local food in season, and if you don't like your local food blame it on the chemicals your local farmers have put in their product. Green Peace want you to make smarter choices not live like the Amish.

      July 19, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. NOT

    NOT dazzle. Troll.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Arlee

    Green Peace stands up for the average man, who feel like they are pawns in this global chess match. If you have lost a home or a family member to a tornado, a hurricane, a snow storm, a forest fire or some other freak of weather. Or if your kids have health issues. These issues are all linked to changes in our environment. If you think you can't make a difference, you can, support Green Peace first then make little changes in your own lives. Use less water, Eat less meat, use only lumber cut from certified forests, Recycle! We are all masters of change and every bit helps. Support solar or wind power. It time for a change.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIN

      "If you have lost a home or a family member to a tornado, a hurricane, a snow storm, a forest fire or some other freak of weather."

      Yea because none of those things ever happened before the industrial revolution, and no ones children ever had health issues either.

      July 19, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • BG

      what a load of hoak, did you get this from their website?

      July 19, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. NOT

    This whole first page of HIJACKINGS is the work of one troll.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. danthefisherman

    I love pulling into a Shell station and saying, "Fill 'er up"

    July 19, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. DM

    If all you care about is money and building your economy, then drill away. People can and do justify any and all actions according to amount of money they require for their own happiness. And they figure that since there are so few Inuit, that the Inuit are easily sacraficed in the face of possible profits. Because the profits are so big, the loss of the arctic wildlife is an easy gamble. People want to be rich so they can feel important and have shiny objects. This will never change. It is the true downfall of the soul of humanity. Dont bother praying about it, your God has been bought.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Natfka

      This is why Greenpeace will fail. They garner millions of dollars with it going only to a very select few. Everyone else they lure into a "cause" and get them to work for free. Its always been a great scam.

      July 19, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  10. marsmotel

    Greenpeace is scam organization that uses plastics, oil and take money for their own gain. I now someone who worked with them and the fake hippies running that show are stealing money and do not give a crap about the environment. Did they ever think: Maybe this is the way it is supposed to be. Animals are extinct for a reason. Stop trying to save them. It is natures plan. Idiots.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. BG

    I don't care about Shell Oil, I don't care about them drilling in the artic, I don't care if they ever make a nickel, the only thing I care about is seeing Greenpeace shutdown. I can beat the snot out of any greenpeace member and challenge them all. The DOD spent a lot of money training me to fight. So, I am confident that I can do this.

    Why do I want to? Because greenpeace is a slimy out of control terrorist group who practice piracy and use any tactics they can to block progress, they are rebels without a clue.

    NIN has correctly stated what they should do. If they were a worthwhile group, why aren't they helping the homeless? or the poor?

    July 19, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big Bob

      Please have a seat, the psychiatrist will be with you in a moment

      July 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Natfka

    I guess criminal activity and laws do not apply when it comes to Greenpeace. next time a cop pulls me over, I am just going to declare I am a member of Greenpeace.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Marcus

    Everytime I hear of something like this, I leave the light on a little longer, and try to comsume a little more gas. Up yours Greenpeace.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. little mister©

    All of the comments after 11am are the work of a troll and not the real little mister©.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. grumpy

    Yes, gstlab3, the great Earth Mother is ready for you now. You, of all people, have discovered the truth, and she will make you hers. You may pack one bag.

    Can I have your car?

    July 19, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
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