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. moe smith

    Greenpeace is about shock value and derisive tactics which hurt more than help. they dont want to provide solutions... they just want to whine about problems... they are one step removed from PETA.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Guest

    Forget the environment! I am an American and I can do as I please! I don't care if the rivers are polluted – I don't swim in them and I don't eat fish. I eat big, fat-dripping steaks instead – it's what makes a man strong. Nor do I give a dam if our rainforests are cut down. So what? It ain't hurting anyone! And the air? If the air so polluted, how come I can still breathe? I don't see no air pollution! Air seems fine to me! And the whole deal with drilling oil? Sweet baby Jesus – what have them environmentalist to do with that one? What, do they not drive any cars? Dam fools don't seem to understand that without oil, we humans can not exist, unless you want to go back to the caves! We need that oil, like we need them steaks and beer! Drilling for oil doesn't hurt the environment one bit! So what is the big issue with them Greenpeacers – I ll never understand! I don't see nothing about any global warming either – its all natural. It's all good. And if I did have kids – I would not have a single worry about no environment for their future. Dam fools! Now, if you would excuse me, I have to get my meds together for my heart disease, or cancer, or whatever the doc said I had.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • acdc2

      Don't be such a moron

      July 19, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • ompalumpa

      haha I couldn't tell if you were serious or not in the beginning...

      July 19, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Big_D

    The good news is the earth is a self correcting system. The bad news, our species is not.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Joe

    Dazz;e. I agree that drilling is disastrous and must be stopped, but rather than importing oil we should just use much less. In the long term that is what will be good for America

    July 19, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Big_D

    Google George Carlin and saving the planet. It is well said.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rosie

    Cannabis = #1 Fuel, #1 Fiber, #1 Paper, #1 Food, #1 Medicine – Educate Yourself!

    July 19, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bongiojf

    Waiting for when Shell decides to turn the tables and create fake websites for Greenpeace. Ought to see some furr fly then for sure!

    July 19, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      Shell will undoubtedly take the high road and not create fake sites to mimic Greenpeace.

      So much for the "peace" in their name though, I guess "peace" goes out the window when it comes to pushing their agenda.

      Like PETA, the E is for Ethics, something they obviously know NOTHING about, remember they wanted to kill the polar bear cub in Germany because it had human contact?

      July 19, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Anon

    This is protected 1st Amendment satire. Go Greenpeace!

    July 19, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gyno_American

      Not with the actual logo it isn't. It is copyright infringement.

      July 19, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Big_D

    Go Rosie! It isn't a bad intoxicant either for those who cannot handle alcohol.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bob Knippel

    I don't need oil, I can just gather nuts and berries in the forest, right along with the other several billion people presently living on the planet.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • epsilon

      Sounds nice. If everybody were to stop growing food and start hunting and harvesting in nature, the world population would drop to under 1 billion in no time! Oil sucks tough, we have to go renewable

      July 20, 2012 at 5:11 am | Report abuse |
  11. ompalumpa

    Shell shoudn't be drilling in the Artic. With all the disagreements and protests they are getting, their sales would probably go down, at least thats my opinion. Then again I've only read a few articles on the subject. Personally, I wouldn't buy from Shell, I'm strongly against this because of the Environmental and other issues. Go greenpeace.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick R

      Uh, who would they "lose customers" to? Exxon? BP? What are you talking about.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Shell Exec

    What's awesome is I'll have lived a rich, lavish life feeding off you oil-dependent fools out there and peons working under me, and then I'll be long dead when the planet's ecosystem collapses thanks to this wonderful corporations like mine and your children and their children pay the price. LOL, SUCKAS!!!!

    July 19, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • wagh

      +1 to that LOL

      July 20, 2012 at 2:49 am | Report abuse |
  13. Don't Drill

    Living in San Diego I've seen the effects of having humans around. Our water is a murky brown green. When you go 45 minutes outside the land, the water turns this beautiful deep blue.

    I can't imagine how much of a beautiful place the arctic must be without humans around mucking it up. I'd ask if people were insane to drill for oil there.

    The real question is why are they still drilling for oil instead of working on alternate green renewable technologies? The oil will be gone some day. We need to be weaning ourselves off the oil crack pipe in the now.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick R

      I hate when people make metaphors about drugs/addiction and oil. Energy is a necessity, and oil is the best we have. Let's work on alternatives, but the use of oil is not some shameful, sinful act.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. James

    No one is going to boycott one oil company over another for this, if Shell stops, someone else would replace them and if you think people are going to drive 10 miles extra for gas just because they drill in Alaska, you're mistaken.

    I'm sure if you ran out of gas on the side of the road, had to walk 10 miles and the nearest station was a shell, you wouldn't keep walking...lol...

    July 19, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Keith

    Don't buy shell oil.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick R

      Yeah, I always opt for BP.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8