Journalists beware: Shell Arctic hoax signals move from subtle spin to activist deception

As if journalists weren’t already confounded enough by the misdirection of spin machines and talking points, they now risk being duped by publicity campaigns using blatant hoaxes.

Consider this video posted to YouTube in June, purporting to show an unauthorized taping of a Shell corporate party celebrating its newest Arctic oil rigs. The event goes horribly wrong when a miniature oil well drink dispenser has an uncontrolled blowout all over the guest of honor.

The event falls apart. The videographer is ushered out by security, reinforcing the impression that this was a huge spontaneous embarrassment to the oil company and giving fuel to a #shellfail meme that spread the video around the Web.

Just one problem: None of it is true.

It was the beginning of an elaborate hoax by Greenpeace and a group called the Yes Men.

Not only was the video fake, but journalists who wrote about the video received followup emails (also fake) from “Shell” calling the video a hoax and directing them to a company website. But that Arctic Ready website, it turns out, was yet another hoax.

So, activists produce a fake viral video, get journalists to write about it, send journalists a fake email admitting the video hoax but steering them to yet another Web hoax.

ArcticReady.com tries to look like a real Shell website.

The website poses as a Shell corporate site with believable yet unflattering information about its Arctic drilling activities, including how the company is excited to take advantage of the “tremendous opportunities” of climate change.

Elaborate steps to look credible

Even a journalist who tried to do some due diligence by diving deeper into the site might be misled.

Links to corporate Web pages are diverted to a “temporary site maintenance” page that tells users “our corporate website is momentarily offline while we add new features as part of our new Let’s Go! Arctic campaign. Please check back later.”

There are fake article headlines, a fake Twitter account, a “just for kids” page with an “Angry Bergs” game that encourages you to “help Shell get Arctic oil” by melting icebergs, and an “ad contest” that has users create and share ads about the Arctic.

This week, as Forbes reports, the creators launched a new fake Twitter account impersonating Shell and using a little reverse-psychology by asking people to stop sharing the “subversive” or “negative” ads.

From here on it’s just hoaxes all the way down.

A new landmark in history of hoaxes

This is not the first time journalists have faced potential confusion by imposters.

After the 2010 Gulf oil spill, an LA-based comedian started @BPGlobalPR — a satirical but somewhat authentic-looking parody. More recently we’ve seen some journalists get confused by fake Twitter accounts parodying the New York Times public editor, the North Carolina governor and Rupert Murdoch’s wife.

A CNBC reporter fell for an email hoax from a “bored” teenager, another hoaxster convinced people Abraham Lincoln had a Facebook-like patent. A hoax press release meant as a joke made it into a Wisconsin newspaper. And of course April Fool’s Day snags a few credulous souls every year.

But the Arctic Ready campaign is shockingly detailed and elaborate in its intention and effort to seem authentic and cover its tracks. Greenpeace took credit for the campaign later on its own website, but the video and Arctic Ready site even today have give no indication of their origins.

It’s a sad and dangerous new world for journalists if marketers and activists become increasingly satisfied that the ends of making a point justify any means of trickery.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/lissa.harris Lissa Harris

    Hardly new. The Yes Men have been at this for over a decade, and they’re good at it. It’s satire. It wasn’t invented yesterday, and it’s not a crisis in journalism.

    It’s too bad some reporters didn’t have their morning coffee before jumping on this and embarrassing themselves. But they should step a bit more lively next time. I got duped by a source pulling a media prank very early in my career. I should never have let it happen, and I think I’m a better reporter for it now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lissa.harris Lissa Harris

    Hardly new. The Yes Men have been at this for over a decade, and they’re good at it. It’s satire. It wasn’t invented yesterday, and it’s not a crisis in journalism.

    It’s too bad some reporters didn’t have their morning coffee before jumping on this and embarrassing themselves. But they should step a bit more lively next time. I got duped by a source pulling a media prank very early in my career. I should never have let it happen, and I think I’m a better reporter for it now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeanmichel.leblanc.988 Jean-Michel Le Blanc

    Prosecute Greenpeace. Publish the truth about their radical and dangerous tactics. Dry up their funding. Shell should sue them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeanmichel.leblanc.988 Jean-Michel Le Blanc

    Prosecute Greenpeace. Publish the truth about their radical and dangerous tactics. Dry up their funding. Shell should sue them.

  • http://www.fluxresearch.com/ Clyde Smith

     So you turn your attack on me?

    If your logic hadn’t collapsed in the process that might almost be a biting response!

    Better luck next time, “HarryPumkin.”

  • Anonymous

    Then you are a rare breed- one who actually wants to be propagandized. However, most people are not, so you would encourage an organization to continue engaging in counterproductive behavior that turns off most of the public. If that’s your cup of tea, I won’t stop you.

  • Anonymous

    Given Royal Dutch Shell’s role in providing the startup funding for Greenpeace and support for forty years, a not unexpected example of the rank hypocricy of the “movement”.

  • Anonymous

    Given Royal Dutch Shell’s role in providing the startup funding for Greenpeace and support for forty years, a not unexpected example of the rank hypocricy of the “movement”.

  • Anonymous

    I
    suppose that presenting a lie by faking an event is a step farther into
    mendacity, and, y’know, John … once you’re lying … you’re lying …

     

    Just
    because you used “actualities” instead of “portrayals” or even “fictional
    vignettes,” you don’t get to be less of a liar as far as the intended result is
    concerned:

     

    You
    meant to LIE … deliberately mislead and misrepresent …

     

    If
    I edit FDR’s inaugural address so it reads, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the
    only thing we have … is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror
    which paralyzes …”  I intended to mislead you about what the president
    said …

     

    If I hired
    someone to deliver the lines … I still meant to mislead you …

     

    … and doing
    that, and ultimately being “outed” at it, destroys you as a source. 

     

    Environmentalists
    cannot afford it.  Their job is hard enough already without adding the
    doubt that they are lying about what they’re saying.

  • http://www.fluxresearch.com/ Clyde Smith

     As far as I’m concerned Greenpeace enhanced their credibility.  This was an impressive work of guerrilla media.

  • Anonymous

    Suppose Greenpeace was the righteous side and Shell was the villain. How would destroying their own credibility yet again help their cause? If the world really is in such peril due to companies like Shell, then organizations like Greenpeace had better take their own credibility a lot more seriously.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Don-Surber/505164265 Don Surber

    Of course this happened. Global warming is a hoax. Lying about the weather is modus operandii for the Climategate crowd and their apologists in the press. Global warming is a multi-billion-dollar industry largely financed by government. I am surprised Poynter said anything. These journalists fell for it because it fit their anti-capitalist prejudices, prejudices the people at the tax-exempt Poynter Institute seem to share.

  • melanerpes

    The tactic depends on journalists’ “too good to check” predisposition toward such stories.  Journalists are willing dupes, and this figures into the hoaxters’ calculations.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1366091178 John Fast

    I agree with you that everyone should be held to the same standard, regardless of their political leanings.

    As far as I know, all the videos that Breitbart and his proteges showed were actual videos of their adversaries actually speaking.  As far as I know, nobody has ever denied that; the most anyone has ever claimed is that the videos took things out of context.

    Making up a hoax video is significantly different; it would be like hiring someone to impersonate Obama (or his voice), and claiming it’s actually him speaking at a White House meeting saying, “What I really want to do is socialize all businesses in the country, and the only thing that stops me is that we can’t get away with it.”

    Or hiring someone to impersonate Mitt Romney’s voice and claiming he made a speech saying “Sure, I want to deregulate everything.  Heck, I even want to legalize marijuana!”   (Oh, if only that were true!)

  • http://www.fluxresearch.com/ Clyde Smith

    This was an awesome campaign.  Given the kind of money and political clout companies like Shell throw around in their quest to destroy the world while monetizing the short term, such tactics are fair game.

    Journalists who can’t cope should find another profession.

  • http://www.fluxresearch.com/ Clyde Smith

    This was an awesome campaign.  Given the kind of money and political clout companies like Shell throw around in their quest to destroy the world while monetizing the short term, such tactics are fair game.

    Journalists who can’t cope should find another profession.

  • Anonymous

    and you want to see SATIRE with a capital S? see my “polar cities research institute” and my new novel FICTION ONLY titled “Polar City Red” about life on a polar city in Alaska in 2070.

  • Anonymous

    I knew this was a hoax from the get go because a few years ago there was a photo splashed around the world SAID to be a “crying face of a woman on a glacier face in Norway” taken by a USA photo and the entire thing was a fake hoax photoshopped and not one news outlet looked into this. I was right. It was a fake photo. ask the photog. Mike Somebody in ”Alaska” (square quotes mine).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=653855594 James Turner

    The Arctic Ready website describes oil as “The dinosaurs’ parting gift to man” and contains a kids game called Angry Bergs in which you zap icebergs out of the way of a drilling rig. Are you seriously suggesting this is something Shell would release? This is satire, and damned good too.  

  • http://twitter.com/ProducerMatthew Matthew Keys

    Solution: Contact Shell’s PR team directly. Ask them about the video and Arctic Ready before you hit “publish.” Seems to be the sensible thing to do.

  • Anonymous

    Makes things pretty complicated dunnit?

    Now we have environmental activists adopting and applying the techniques that folks like Breitbart et al have been employing for a number of years:  fake videos.

    Fair is fair.  If we’re gonna condemn Brietbart and his ilk for their fake attacks on ACORN and PBS, all done to advance what they think are correct principles, then we gotta do the same here, despite the urge to agree with the activists.

    Lies are lies …

  • http://www.socialmediagroup.com maggiefox | Social Media Group

    I think you’re pointing your finger in the wrong direction. This simply means that journalists need to do their homework. Since the average person is not likely to, that sounds to me like an opportunity to justify your existence and provide some value.