This #ShellFail video racked up more than half a million hits in just a few hours. But what appeared to be a botched send-off party for a pair of Arctic oil-drilling rigs on top of Seattle's Space Needle was actually an elaborate hoax.
Now, we have the exclusive inside story on how Occupy, Greenpeace and the Yes Men pulled off the stunt.
Not quite what it seemed
Occupy activist Logan Price posted the one-minute video on Thursday morning. It supposedly shows a private party thrown by the oil giant Shell to celebrate new drilling in the Arctic, at which drinks were being pumped out by a miniature replica of one of the oil-rigs. But when the widow of the rig's designer tried to open proceedings by filling her glass from the rig, it malfunctioned and squirted oil – sorry, liquor – all over her.
In case you haven't seen it yet, watch and enjoy:
The video quickly hit the top of YouTube and Reddit's rankings, and was picked up by numerous blogs and news outlets eager to spot metaphors. By mid-afternoon, though, shrewd sleuthing by Gawker's Adrian Chen had exposed the video as a hoax. Greenpeace, Occupy and the Yes Lab have since taken credit for the prank.
How did they pull it off?
How did they do it? And how did they fool so many people? "It was a lot of work," Price said when Avaaz caught up with him yesterday. Dozens of volunteers and weeks of work were involved. To kick things off, two members of the group took on the roles of representatives of Wainwright & Shore, a "full service, integrated marketing public relations and interactive firm, specializing in corporate events". They adopted fake names, phone numbers, email addresses, and a fake website showcasing their ecstatic clientele. They then sent hundreds of fancy-looking invitations to hundreds of real oil industry executives throughout the Seattle region.
On the day of the event, guests arrived at the real Skyline room of Seattle's landmark Space Needle building, and enjoyed a real hosted bar with real light hors d'oeuvres. Only some of the guests were fake. According to Price, "Everyone in that room was either from the industry, or desperately trying to pretend that they were. We had about 30 extras who all had cover stories and fake careers."
Even the Space Needle staff were real, including the security assigned to the event. "They legitimately kicked me out, with total sincerity," Price says. "They even offered their CCTV footage to help identify and catch me."
A hoax with a sharp message
The video, and ensuing media coverage, have focused much-needed attention on Arctic drilling. Shell plans to drill five exploratory wells in the Arctic waters near Alaska – where rising temperatures have melted the permanent sea ice that used to make these waters unsuitable for exploration.
Any oil spill could have a devastating impact on the Inupiat Eskimo community that has occupied the North Slope of Alaska for countless generations. Whales, polar bears, and other wildlife also depend on the region's fragile coastal and marine habitats. In the event of an accident, the response would have to come from more than 1,000 miles away.
Lean more: The New York Times offers an excellent in-depth report on the new frontier of offshore drilling.
Take action: Join Greenpeace's call to stop Shell destroying the Arctic. And once you've done that, here's some light relief – enjoy this film where the hoaxsters explain all: