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. ns

    Unfortunately Greenpeace, while well intentioned is only an "aginner", with no constructive solutions.
    For constructive, working, environmental solutions look to National Audubon Society, Nature Conservency
    and similar environmental groups.

    July 19, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. DiehardRepublican

    I'm in my mid 30's and my girlfriend and I never plan on having any kids, SO I say lets rap3 mother earth until there is nothing left! I only plan on living until I die and I could care freaking less what happens to the planet after I'm gone. I wan't a freaking monster truck that burns that nastiest crude at the cheapest price I can find so i can drive over all the hybrids on my way to my coal mining job! I say screw saving the rain forest or this global warming crap and let your kids figure it out.

    July 19, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • yea

      you plan on living until you die, eh?

      July 19, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Love the Chimps

      I'm with you... I live in Southern California and LOVE my diesel truck, my 2-stroke dirt bikes and boating. I burn more fossil fuels over a holiday weekend than most do over a year! Drill baby drill!

      Plus I live off of old ARCO (now BP) money... trust fund! (:

      July 19, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • c-red

      This is one of the worst posts i have ever seen from obviously one o the dumbest individuals to ever post a comment on this site. People like you make me sick and im not even a go green save the planet kind of a guy. You should be shot so instead of living you can just die and make the world a better place for all of us.

      July 19, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. george

    I think Shell company is a scam. They claiming that they can handle spills in Arctic is a scam. They claiming that it would benefit americans is a scam, where as more oil would just get us more addicted to it and in the end, more dependent on it.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ocan

    Seriously they do have a point, the planet is not handling this new weather patterns well. What you have not noticed, the Niño is in the Pacific now drought is inching towards the bread basket of America. We must take serious steps and cut out with the retorical chest pounding people!

    July 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ocan

    So says the raghead w/the explosives vest.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  6. David

    Greenpeace is a professional protest organisation addicted to donations and publicity. This feeds both and achieves little else. There comes a point where being clever and angry all the time is no longer amusing.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bill S

    I think Greenpeace is a terrorist outfit. They should all be shot.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nyarlathotep

      I'll settle for ridiculing them. Why take them seriously?

      July 19, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. djh

    The left typically can not rely on actual facts or truth to support their claims and agenda. Deceit, lies, intimidation and infringing on the rights of others – whether its individuals or corporations, are always justified when they do it but considered criminal when someone who dares to think in a manner they have deemed wrong does it. Then they can't figure out why they have no credibility with the public in general.
    Hypocrisy and double standard from the self proclaimed 'tolerant, inclusive and enlightened' is the rule, not the exception.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tebowg

      And the right typically believes in magic sky fairies.... what is your point?

      July 19, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. sierrafoxtrot66

    @Bill S – I think all your clothes are terrorist outfits and you should wear dresses from Goodwill!

    That's to show the value of your post...it has none just like this one...you may figure it out but I doubt it!

    July 19, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. chris

    If greenpeace (or the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) was actually more interested in saving the oceans then destroying them in their attempts to save them they would have mine and many others support. As it stands if it wouldn't pollute the seas and endanger marine life I would have sunk both their fleets.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. GodfatherofSoul

    Folks this is EXACTLY what happened with the Exxon oil spill. Exxon supposedly had all sorts of spill safety measures in place and it turned out it was all bunk. They didn't and when they were ordered to pay up, they just held up the payouts in court for 15-20 years until they got a favorable judge to reduce the damage award to peanuts.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. GetoverIt

    I find it funny how you are all worked up over this, yet it is perfectly ok for Shell and other polluting industries to run commercials touting "clean coal" and other such nonsense. Fight fire with fire...if your IQ isn't high enough to tell that it is not a legit ad, then stay off the internet.

    They are spending billions....why not invest in something cleaner and more sustainable? Oh, that's right, because the execs want their stock options NOW

    Let em drill, as long as the execs agree to return any and all wealth should anything go wrong...as the government should not have to fund any of the cleanup....

    And for the rest of us, let's have a $5 gallon fuel tax which can only be used to improve public transportation and cleaner technologies....If you want to pollute, then you should pay for it...put some skin in the game...

    July 19, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Richard

    Shell should do to Greenpeace what the French secret service did. Bomb them.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Gyno_American

    When Shell Oil gets done suing GreenPeace for copyright infringement of their logos and slogans, there will be little green left to that peace.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. calyspso64

    Someone should do a prank on Greenpeace...give them a taste of their own medicine. Trust me, there soooo much material to play with.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
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