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Convincing Web spoof targets Shell's Arctic drilling

Many Twitter users were fooled -- and continued to be fooled -- this week by tweets from a feed designed to look like an official Shell Oil account that links to a web site spoofing the company's Arctic drilling plans. Forbes reports the site was created by anti-drilling groups Greenpeace and the Yes Men. It even spoofs last weekend's near-grounding in Dutch Harbor by a Shell drilling ship that slipped its anchor in high winds. A photo of the incident on the fake page is headlined "Let's Hit the Beach!"

They created a fake Shell "social media response team" Twitter account to make ads generated by their Arctic Ready website go viral. The account pretended to be frantically trying to contain the spread of ads created on the fake site. Those drawn to the site, thinking it was real, thought it was a case of social media going horribly wrong, with "Shell's" ad generator resulting in "embarrassing" ads ... and Shell's "social media team" being as inept in their attempts to control the spread as BP was in the Gulf of Mexico.

Forbes says the same groups were behind last month's viral "Shell Fail" video supposedly depicting a company Arctic drilling celebration in Seattle -- in which a model oil rig malfunctions and sprays cocktails all over guests.

The anti-drilling forces' Web hoaxes are becoming so clever that the media industry's Poynter Institute is warning journalists to use extra caution to avoid being taken in.

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 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.

Shell's response so far has been low key, Forbes points out, "in part because they likely fear bringing any more attention to the critical content." Read the company's full statement on recent scams at The Washington Post.