The battle between oil company Shell’s campaign to drill for oil in the Arctic and the Greenpeace movement to try and stop them has come to a head this week.
Greenpeace teamed up with the Yes Lab (a group of anti-corporate hoax specialists) to put together a series of publicity stunts to draw public attention to Shell’s Arctic drilling campaign and garner the support to stop it.
There was the staged ‘Shell’ party at the Seattle Space Needle which saw an old lady covered with oil from an exploding cake and the subsequent video of the event which went viral. Then there was the fake ‘Arctic Ready’ website created by Greenpeace, which posed as a Shell website inviting the public to post encouraging messages about Arctic drilling on picturesque images of Arctic landscape and wildlife. Of course the slogans posted on these pictures were anything but positive and for a little while the whole world was laughing at Shell, who didn’t appear to have realized that they were being trolled for an astronomical amount of time.
Later however, the news emerged that the site didn’t actually belong to Shell, but was actually a Greenpeace and Yes Lab brainchild. Admittedly, I fell for the fake site and poked fun at Shell for having the audacity to believe that such a campaign would have gathered any kind of vaguely positive response.
Now the debate is on as to whether Greenpeace have taken their campaign too far with their ‘fake’ and ‘misleading’ websites. Some media outlets have attacked Greenpeace for the campaign which attempted to beguile members of the general public for the purpose of their cause.
Greenpeace’s Media Office Travis Nichols said that the campaign was “obviously satire” and a type of “identity correction” of Shell’s own pro-drilling information campaign. He said: “We are taking the facts of what they’re doing and putting it in a straightforward way – obviously using humor.”
CNN’s Thom Patterson wrote an incredibly insightful article about the affair, he said: “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?”
Despite the fact that several media outlets and masses of the general public were fooled by the Greenpeace spoof, it doesn’t appear to have damaged their campaign in any way. As was implied by Nichols, a great many of the people who were fooled can see the funny side of the campaign and the fact that they were spoofed does not detract from the significance of the message that Greenpeace are trying to get across.
Nichols said: “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.”
Greenpeace’s statistics for the campaign support this view, with the arcticready.com site racking up nearly 800,000 views and the anti-drilling petition gaining more than 10,000 signatures.
Shell has released a statement calling the campaign a ‘scam’ although they have not threatened Greenpeace with legal action. They denied any involvement in the Space Needle debacle and said; “We care that people are not deceived; and in the spirit of intelligent debate on such a serious topic, we continue to offer our own (genuine) views as well as a few real facts about the challenges and opportunities of arctic exploration,” after which follows a link to what we presume is a real Shell website with some of the ‘facts’ that they want us to know about Arctic drilling.
The Greenpeace website offers a justification of their actions, claiming that the organization is promoting “informed debate” and the use of “high-profile, non-violent conflict to raise the level and quality of public debate.”
I’m inclined to congratulate Greenpeace and the Yes Lab on a campaign well executed, I think they are trying to get across an important message in a dog-eat-dog world and have done it well.
Multinational companies and even governments cover up things that they don’t want the general public to find out all the time. Greenpeace has openly admitted that their campaign was a hoax although initially they needed the general public to believe it was real for it to work, which it did and I really don’t think they should be criticized for it.
After all, all’s fair in love, war and Arctic drilling…