Internet Hoax Takes Aim at Shell’s Arctic Plan

Environmental activists staged an elaborate internet hoax this week in protest of Shell’s plans to drill in Arctic waters off Alaska, fooling thousands of viewers including some media outlets.

The hoax started with a video purporting to show a public relations event hosted by Shell at the Space Needle in Seattle, where the ice-class drilling barge Kulluk and drillship Noble Discoverer are docked awaiting deployment to Alaska.

In the video, shot with a shaky camera phone, an elderly woman attempts to get a drink from a miniature dispenser designed to look like a drilling rig. As she struggles to pour the drink, the dispenser malfunctions and spews brownish liquid all over the horrified woman.

“Turn it off!” demands one of the actors portraying a Shell official. “I can’t turn it off!” another responds.

The fake video, entitled #ShellFAIL, was posted on the front page of popular internet site Reddit and was linked to and tweeted repeatedly, reportedly hitting the number two slot on YouTube’s most-watched videos on Thursday. It was followed up by an emailed “press release”, which was also fake, sent to many media outlets on behalf of Shell.

The fake press release claimed that Shell was considering legal action against the “unknown” activists behind the video. It falsely quoted a (fake) Shell spokesman as saying: “Activist groups are becoming increasingly desperate in their attempts to block our federally approved right to drill in the Arctic, and are resorting to ever more underhanded tactics.”

Several media organisations (not Upstream) were duped by the hoax and have since issued corrections.

Environmental group Greenpeace, media specialists Yes Lab and activists with the Occupy Wall Street movement claimed responsibility for the hoax.

“This experience shows that a few energised people can compete with the billions that Shell spends on advertising and lobbying,” said Greenpeace’s James Turner, who played the role of aShell official in the video.

Shell later issued a real statement on the hoax: “Recently groups that oppose Shell’s plans in offshore Alaska have posted a video that purports to show Shell employees at an event at the Seattle Space Needle.  Shell did not host, nor participate in an event at the Space Needle and the video does not involve Shell or any of its employees. A fake press release claiming that Shell is considering legal action following the launch of the video was also distributed to the media.

“We continue to focus on a safe exploration season in 2012.”   

Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh (actually) added: “We are more focused on this year’s responsible exploration programme, providing new jobs, and gathering data on the energy resource available offshore Alaska. We’re ramping up to the drilling season and focused on doing that safely.”

On Friday, the activists released a behind-the-scenes video of the hoax.

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