Greenpeace and Shell have been the subject of a lot of meta-news lately.

In case you haven’t yet heard, Greenpeace staged an elaborate mock-party of Shell executives celebrating the beginnning of experimental drilling in the Arctic. It was part of a creative and rather complex campaign built around a website, social media properties, photos and videos, all meant to galvanize interest and motivate the public to share content to help the spread of a particular message critical of Shell and big oil.

I could carry on for some time about why the campaign has been so effective. For the purpose of this post, I’ll focus on something I’ll call six degrees of news coverage. Each of the following six points highlights a distinct stream of media coverage of this campaign; cascading publicity you couldn’t pay for.

  1. The celebration complete with a metaphorical disaster and the “removal” of an “amateur” camera operator.
  2. An entire crisis management team dispatched by Shell to address the ensuing storm on social media.
  3. The whole event was an elaborate hoax – from the staged event to the inept faux-crisis-management team.
  4. Even journalists had been duped into covering the initial story as legitimate.
  5. In an effort to avoid giving the story more life than it already has, Shell had to publicly announce it will not be pursuing legal action against Greenpeace.
  6. Is Greenpeace liable for violation of trademark and conducting what amounts to identity theft?

Clearly, the jugular lives online now.

While activists are still able to attract attention through traditional means of protest, the social web is proving to be a formidable tool for both the mobilization of resources and spread of information (and misinformation). NGOs can risk pissing off a few reporters, duping them into covering staged events as real news because the web is more powerful (and forgiving) than the blowback from a few journalists (and their faithful). In many ways, activists can count on criticism to help keep the story alive.

It’s an entirely new dynamic; one which demands organizations, governments and politicians grow thicker skins, develop forecasting skills and build their online capabilities and communities now.