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. DeathToEnviromentalTerrorists

    It's about time we start shooting these enviromental terrorist's just like we shoot political/religious ones.
    They are no better then any other type of terrorist.

    July 19, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jk

    Since CNN now thinks that quoting website comments qualifies as journalism, please quote me as saying their reporters are lazy, ill-informed idiots.

    July 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. GeorgeBos95

    I doubt GreenPeace (or PETA, or any of the other extreme groups) would take lightly to a satire of them.

    They are, after all, "always right".

    July 19, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      What do you mean? They are satirized all the time. Limbaugh, Hannity, Saturday Night Live – everybody takes a crack at them constantly.

      July 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • baltopaul

      PETA has no sense of humor when they are the target.

      I know the guy who registered "peta.org" in the early days of the internet, and set up a web site called "people eating tasty animals".

      He fended off lawsuits from PETA for a long time before they got that domain name away from him.

      July 19, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • TomHank

      Bunch of j-er-ks.
      Aren't they in the same catagory as those so called "occupiers" and trouble-making anarchists who just want to raise hell and meanwhile enjoying their welfare checks?

      July 19, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • RedneckinHooligan

      Not really grandpa. Most people these days can laugh it up.

      The people that get all bunched up over being mocked are Christians, Muslims, and Scientologists.

      July 19, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ocan

      Perhaps we should have taken our pound of flesh from the Iraqui republic in billions of oil barrels, after all the spoils of war gave us that but no we are weak, as the World Police without guns;)

      July 19, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mark5

    Greenpeace should be attacking consumers, not the people who give them what they want. But they would make a lot of enemies that way. They prefer to "shoot the messenger". Someone should make a fake website against Greenpeace and see how they like it.

    July 19, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • KKDenver

      I know....... just like we should lock up all drug users not the people who give them what they want. Hey, I'm just providing a service here don't blame me!

      July 19, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. loverpoint

    Way to go Jared Woody you selfish jerk. Guess what Alaska is not an independent country you fool.

    July 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. karbvi

    GeorgeBos95.....this clown probably voted for that born again drunk bush, only stupid reps have this warped mentality.Hope he doesn't reproduce as we certainly dont need any more r E T ARDED children polluting the gene pool.

    July 19, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill Duke

      M o r o n s like you are enough. We don't need more Dims.

      July 19, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  7. longtooth

    If I were an Alaskan, I'd like global warming too. In the land of Ice and Sarah Palin, any alternative would be fine. BTW, I voted for Obama because of Palin, and I would vote for Alaskan drilling too.

    July 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tom

    Shell probably doesn't care that much because the websites are pretty lame.

    July 19, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. don

    Strange how Shell officlals cannot and will not deny the accusations of these environmental groups. Their only complaint is that they are tellnig the truth through satire? I thought that was protected by free speech. Greenpeace was not trying to profit from Shell's trademark – so do they even have a legit complaint?

    July 19, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lucy N

      No matter whose side you're on, you should at least read the article before commenting. It states that while they were not pleased with it, Shell had not taken any legal action. Also, it's not a matter of trying to "profit" from someone's mark that makes use of it illegal. Please avoid making comments about matters you clearly have no knowledge of.

      Further, I'm curious as so why you think that Shell is unable to "deny the accusations of these environmental groups." I have no doubt that if you were to go on their website, they would most vehemently deny all accusations and likely make some good arguments for exactly why they're right. Not to mention, the fact that they're calling these ads a scam is a fairly strong indication of their disagreement with what this group is saying. Since you're obviously worried about it, rest assured that Shell not only can, but does deny these accusations. And when you say: "Their only complaint is that they are tellnig (sic) the truth through satire?" To what, exactly, are you referring? One might guess that you're simply adding your crap to the article you didn't read to begin with. AT NO POINT in this article (or anywhere else, I'd bet) did they say that Shell ever suggested Greanpeace/Yes Man were telling the truth. What a stupid statement for you to make.

      July 19, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. xfiler93

    just more whack job environmental crack pots at work.

    July 19, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Louie329

    Shell encourages a "spirit of intelligent debate" about a "serious topic" ... Right up until it is their turn to speak. Shell et al do not play fair, and will use lousy debate tactics and character assassination to discredit rather than debate the topic at hand. When that fails, they will pay experts to testify to the legitimacy of "results" that were generated before any experiments were conducted.

    They just don't like it that the hippies are learning the game and starting to play just as well, if not better.

    July 19, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. indieisin

    Thank god there is someone doing this, if the yes men weren't around who would care about the life up there which is going to disappear? Our planet is not-so-slowly being cleared of it's beauty and life and we only care about how much the price of gas is.

    July 19, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Edgar Friendly

    There is plenty of satire of Greenpeace and PETA out there. At one point peta.org was the official website of "People for the Eating of Tasty Animals." They take it about as well as Shell does. Likewise, oil companies and big businesses in other industries that cause lots of harm along with the good they do frequently use deceptive tactics and advertising to get what they want.

    Shell needs to lighten up, and all the people whining about "how much would Greenpeace like it?!" need to smarten up.

    July 19, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mavrik

    Greanpeace really does not have the public's interest at heart. They exist to try to further the fanasies of a small minority of environmental extremists.

    July 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. NLockAK

    Well I find this argument to be kind of silly. Not any of the comments specifically, but the coverage and media focus that is being drawn on this subject.

    I'm a lifelong Alaskan by the way.

    There is always going to be a risk involved in resource development, and that cannot be disputed. However there are many off shore drills currently, and the fact that an accident two years ago, caused strictly by negligence, could stop the continuation and development of this industry is silly.

    "–"How many more of these offshore rigs are drilling around our coastal waters? And how many do not meet safety regulations?"

    CBS News Investigative Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson answered: We asked the Interior Department, and they said there are 3,500 drilling rigs and platforms"

    -http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18563_162-6573602.html

    We have been doing this for quite a while, and the technology along with the procedures are only going to get better.

    I'm all for relieving our country's dependency on oil, and more specifically foreign oil. I'm all for development of a renewable energy resource that will feed the ever growing energy demand of this country. We cannot do this overnight, and right now our heating, transportation, electricity, etc... is surrounded around coal, oil and it's by-products. We need to keep extracting these until we have developed a reliable alternative.

    "As climate change causes the sea ice to retreat, oil companies are rushing in to extract the fossil fuels that caused the melt in the first place. It's madness – you don't put out a fire with gasoline. Instead of drilling in the Arctic, we should be extracting oil from the car industry by driving up the efficiency of their vehicles and forcing them to use new clean technologies."

    -http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/may/05/shell-cairn-energy-oil-drilling-arctic

    We haven't found the alternative yet, not one that can provide what is needed. So hopefully people will realize this, and instead of trying to do the impossible of stopping shell, we should put our focus on the method and technology shell will be using. They are going to drill regardless, and if we don't want an accident we need to make that clear, but we need to work together.

    I love electricity, heat, and transportation. I hope all these nay-sayers understand how much their lives revolve around these.

    July 19, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
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