Cleaning Up the Gulf With Twitter

Curator's Note

How do messages of 140 characters or less influence change?

Twitter is a microblogging website that allows users to communicate by sending messages that are 140 characters or less. Leroy Stick (the pseudonym of the individual behind the fake Twitter account, BP Global PR) created a satirical Twitter account a month after the Deep Horizon oil spill out of frustration of the lack of action by BP. @BPGlobalPR has close to 200,000 followers and is found on over 6,000 Twitter lists. The verified BP account has almost 20,000 followers and is found on just over 1,000 Twitter lists.

In a way, Stick created a new identity for BP on Twitter. The Twitter bio states, "This page exists to get BP’s message and mission statement out into the twitterverse!" In addition to the countless satirical tweets describing the situation as it unfolds, Stick critically appropriated the BP logo, transforming the familiar green and yellow sunburst into a darker version of itself with drops of what appears to be oil falling from the black burst. 

Stick revealed, "I started off just making jokes at their expense with a few friends, but now it has turned into something of a movement.  …  People are sharing billboards, music, graphic art, videos and most importantly information." But will the frustrations voiced and information shared on Twitter be catalysts for change? So far, the account has raised over $20,000 for the Gulf Restoration Network through donations and purchases of BP Cares t-shirts. The account also promotes BP Cares Art Shows occurring across the country that raise money for the Gulf.

Many environmental activists call for systemic changes – can actions like those taken by @BPGlobalPR lead to the changes activists believe are necessary?  For now, Stick gives companies the following advice, "You know the best way to get the public to respect your brand?  Have a respectable brand.  Offer a great, innovative product and make responsible, ethical business decisions." 

You can donate to the Gulf Restoration Network at www.healthygulf.org

Comments

Janelle A. Schwartz's picture

Re-tweet

Once again, satire proves to be a most effective tool for disseminating the most serious of information. Admittedly, I am not one of the 200,000 followers of BPGlobalPR, but I can’t help but be struck by the overwhelming ability of this parody to draw our attention to (or is it away from?) its source. So I equally wonder why more people have not then joined the verified BP Twitter account. What is it about the secondary source that seems so much more "verified" than the primary source? Why would we rather follow an interpretation than the original? Has the original simply lost its authenticity—and hence its ability to communicate effectively and persuasively? We might not be able to connect, so to speak, with 140-character microblogs from the BP corporation, perhaps because they do nothing but demand small increments of our increasingly suspicious/skeptical attention. In contrast, the same bursts from BPGlobalPR not only capture and play on our skepticism; they can inspire us to act.

Action?

Thanks for your comment Janelle. You raise some really good questions. It’ll be interesting to continue to ‘follow’ the Twitter account as time passes to see, as you said, if it successfully engages people or draws their attention away from the source. 

Carrie Packwood Freeman's picture

What would satire aimed at us look like?

You gotta love satire. This site does a great job of showing that BP’s shallowness - it cares more about looking like it cares than really letting people know profits come first. Wait- here’s one—“The only thing deep about BP is its off-shore drilling” …or "its pockets" maybe? …  While BP clearly does deserve to be targeted for ridicule, I also wonder if it isn’t a bit too much like scapegoating the blame onto the easiest target (after all, people respect oil company execs about as much as they respect tobacco industry execs). What would it feel like if we targeted ourselves  – our consumptive excesses, our addiction to oil, our allowance of oil drilling licenses all over wildlife/ocean habitats, and our slow demand for overdue energy changes from government and industry? Would it be as funny?  Here’s a t-shirt idea “I’m consuming my heart out and all I got was this lousy Gulf oil spill disaster?”

Back to the individual

Thanks for your response Carrie. You make a good point about bringing it back to individual responsibility. I wonder if this Twitter account has made any followers more aware of their own individual practices? 

Kevin Sanson's picture

Continued Action

Elizabeth,

I think you draw our attention to a really fascinating aspect of the tragedy … like Janelle, I’m interested to see if this shift in media and communication technology also impacts the relationship we share with the coast and how/whether we continue to care after more traditional outlets have moved onto the next story. If Stick follows his own advice (which is key, I think), there is great potential here …

Looking forward

 Thanks for your comment Kevin. Stick posted a very timely update yesterday that addresses your observation.

Joelle S. Underwood and Janelle A. Schwartz's picture

The BP Global PR Twitter

The BP Global PR Twitter account fits well with the some of our best Mardi Gras traditions here in south Louisiana. No public figure, scandal, or tragedy is immune from the satirical treatment, although the medium is masks and floats rather than 140 characters.

Mardi Gras Comparison

You draw a great comparison — I wouldn’t have made that connection! Thanks for the comment.

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