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. minxx99

    gstlab3, when you want to give your services for free, then you can talk about "free energy". I'm assuming you like being paid for what you do, and so do the employees at the energy companies.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big_D

      Too bad the oil companies only pay the public 5 dollars an acre to take everything.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Darrell

    It looks like Greenpeaces tactics are working just fine. Look at all the attention they have received over this satire / scam. Everyone has an opinion. For good or bad this Greenpeace tactic has harmed no one while increasing the discussion.

    July 19, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. NIN

    So, can anyone tell me what type of fuel Greenpeace uses in their "pirate" boats to go after whale hunting ships? Surely its not petrol based....

    July 19, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • JustEric

      Anyone who expects anything less than double-standards and hypocrisy from the left (extreme or otherwise) is completely and hopelessly delusional.

      July 19, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • thatguybill

      I hope its baby seals.

      July 19, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Skipper

      Excellent point.

      July 19, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      All three of the Rainow Warrior boats have been outfitted with sails, and have (or had) diesel-electric for use when they can't sail. The RW I was the first diesel electric built in the UK, built in 1955. RW III can cruise at 10 knots on just 300kW. I presume for the diesel they can use bio-diesel, but that probably isn't so readily available in all ports, except for Brazil.

      July 19, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fn0rdz

      Of course not! It's based on peace, love, (organically grown) flowers and free-range, died-of-old-age-and-donated-to science rabbit fur!

      July 19, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

    The environment should always be a concern in situations like this. However preserving the primitive lifestyle of a few hundred or even thousands of people who refuse to realize its 2012 should NOT be a concern. Especially when weighed next to the benefits of such a large energy deposit and how many millions of people it will provide for.

    July 19, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Berman

      and what do we do WHEN

      July 19, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • CA Liberal

      Global warming is melting the Arctic. How cool is that? Now we can drill for more oil.

      Now that's insanity. Yes there will be oil spills. The frigid water will turn the oil to gooey tar which will stick to everything and everybody. The people who live there will have their livelihood destroyed and they will all have to go on welfare to survive because the animals will be dead. The right wingnuts will all say " Don't give those lazy Indians any government money. Make them get a job."...............................What a great idea.

      July 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mickey1313

    Green peace, along with peta and the sierra club, are all du she bags.

    July 19, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Coflyboy

      With that idiotic comment I guess it is safe to assume that you, Sir, are a gentleman and a scholar?

      July 19, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Coflyboy

    Bottom line: People need four basic things: Food, Water, Air to breathe, and land to walk on. Since the industrial revolution, we have managed to mess up all four of our basic needs. If we do not change things, your kids' basic needs will no longer be sustainable. Why is it so difficult to curb our wasteful ways? Why is it so difficult to convince people that change, such as alternative energy is necessary? Why are we investing billions in "obsolete and destructive' energy sources when we could be investing those same billions in alternative energies? Our society is WAY too dependent on oil. Someday the oil will be gone; then what will you do? Eat money? Doesnt this make sense to anyone?

    July 19, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      @ Coflyboy
      Same’ol tired argument we’ve been hearing for decades. Most people actually agree on your points. However unless you’ve solved the issue of a clean, renewable energy source that can replace oil…then stfu and let the adults do what needs done.

      July 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Coflyboy

      @TomTom: Maybe we should look at it this way: Nature has sequestered billions of tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere over the ages by turning rainforests into what we now call oil. This made life as we know it possible. When we drill and burn oil we release all this sequestered CO2 back into the atmosphere. This is permanent. I do believe we can make the changes we need to do as PEOPLE to allow our planet to sustain life. However, if we keep doing what we are doing, your grandkidscould very well be the last generation of humans. What the universe has created in this planet is quite unique. Maybe 100,000 years from now, nature will give life (or humans) another whirl.... Think about it.

      July 19, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Skipper

      Good point! We need to start constructing more nuclear power plants NOW!

      July 19, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • anthonyr

      tom are you an idiot? windmills, solar panels, hydro, thermal, these are all renewable resources for energy and are much cheaper than oil, the only problem is they r so cheap that the energy companies wont make as much money, and jsut because native people like to live the way of their ancestors does not mean thier opinion doesnt matter, they keep heritage alive and that shoudl be respected, your lack of humanity is disgusting, yes lets put an entire are of long protected wildlife at risk so we can have a light bulb turn on for another 20 years. im sorry but the life of anything including an animal isnt worth me charging my ipad. if the enrgy companies actually cared for more than money they woudl build renewable energy but they dont because there isnt as much money in it. and supporting a greedy person that doesnt even desereve to be treated with dignity over a stupid argument just lowers the fact that this is destroying the future, for profit, and they brainwash people into thinking its not, bp didnt even have technology to clean up an oil spill in 2010 and that means shell doesnt either. that area is loved so much because it is untouched, and now your supporting people touching it and ruining it. oil is old technology and yes like u said it is 2012, we shoudlnt be using old technology to make electricity, coal and oil is ancient, lets use solar, wind, hydro, and thermal and yes if we used it we woudl have more than enough electricity for everything we needed at a fraction of the cost, so i really dont see the point ur trying to make, it woudl have been a great argument in 1910

      July 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. thatguybill

    sigh.... go hug a tree.

    July 19, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. pam

    2

    July 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Silly

    You mean cars running or water oh how cool so I just put the hose in the tank neck and fill her up.

    July 19, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Skipper

    Shell shouldn't sweat this too much..... The only people likely to participate on this website are people who already agree with their position.

    July 19, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Skipper

    Shell should sue Greenpeace into bankruptcy....

    July 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Lee Oates

    On the grave of the Naked Ape species in the near future a shall sign would be appropriate.

    July 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. munichtexan

    Did they ask for money? If not, its not a scam. Did Shell provide them with any money, did anyone else pay them thinking they were Shell? In the past, political cartoons were used all the time, how is this any different?

    July 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Frank Jimmies

    It's using a trademarked logo without permission, and presenting it as the opinions of Shell. It's wrong, and If they valued their funds which are supposed to 'help mother nature' or whatnot, they would avoid doing things that will likely result in legal action.

    July 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Paul

    The solution is to 'in fact' drill now.. .and do so till the alternatives are viable.
    It will be decades or longer before oil/coal can be replaced with alternatives.

    When you combine oil & gas in terms of resources, we are the saudi arabia of energy.
    Yet we are importing way more than need be.

    We can litterally be self sufficent now, if it wasnt for poliltics government, and the enviro-wackos who fight all efforts to have legit usage of oil. I too would like to see alternatives, but Im not paying more than I would for oil/gas now.

    If costs for any of it go high enough, I will give up the car and get a good high end bicycle.

    July 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
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