Over the last three years, we’ve all seen the public face of the tens of millions of dollars that BP has spent on cleaning up its image — money that would be better spent on cleaning up the environmental carnage in the Gulf. The result has been those cheery ads that you still see on your TV with surprising regularity, friendly faces that speak of the British oil giant’s commitment to restoring the Gulf and bringing tourists back.
But we’re learning more about the “covert operations” of BP’s public-relations campaign, and it is every bit at dirty as the 5 million barrels of black crude that it unleashed on the Gulf Coast:
New Orleans, United States – BP has been accused of hiring internet “trolls” to purposefully attack, harass, and sometimes threaten people who have been critical of how the oil giant has handled its disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
The oil firm hired the international PR company Ogilvy & Mather to run the BP America Facebook page during the oil disaster, which released at least 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf in what is to date the single largest environmental disaster in US history.
The page was meant to encourage interaction with BP, but when people posted comments that were critical of how BP was handling the crisis, they were often attacked, bullied, and sometimes directly threatened.
This story was broken by al-Jazeera’s Dahr Jamail, a tireless journalist who has done yeoman’s work on the BP story. The details of the alleged harassment, as he reports, are chilling:
“I was called a lot of names,” Marie added. “I was called a streetwalker and a lot of things like that, and eventually had gun threats.”
According to Marie, the harassment didn’t remain on the BP page. Trolls often followed users to their personal Facebook pages and continued to harass them there.
“They resorted to very demeaning methods of abuse,” Marie said. “They were racist, sexist, and threatened me and others with legal action and violence. They’ve insinuated that some commenters are ‘child molesters’, and have often used the tactic of mass reporting with the goal of having their targets completely removed from Facebook.”
Much more needs to be learned about what top executives at BP and at Ogilvy & Mather knew, and when they knew it, about this harassment. We do know we’ve increasingly seen BP’s true colors in recent months, in its escalating nasty war against claimants who suffered economic losses or were sickened by the 2010 oil spill. Now, there should be a full investigation — but it’s also important to remember this: Ultimately, this crude and juvenile online bullying will not work. The environmental activists that I’ve worked with and watched in action over the last 43 months are completely fearless, and are determined not to rest until BP pays for its misdeeds and the Gulf is cleaned up to the fullest extent possible.
What irks me, though, is to read on the same day as these BP harassment allegations that the company — with its track record of corporate negligence and abuse — is doing a booming business in the Gulf:
BP has added two new drilling rigs to its offshore Gulf of Mexico operations, the company announced Tuesday, bringing the company’s total number of Gulf rigs to nine. It is now the largest fleet BP has ever had in the region.
The company’s announcement comes just three and a half years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 crewmen and resulted in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
This is the real reason why BP has fought with every trick in its playbook, clean or dirty — not because it’s a responsible corporate citizen, as those ads imply. It’s because it wants unfettered access to the cash machine that is the oil buried under the Gulf of Mexico, even after committing the environmental crime of the century. But their crude actions will only stiffen the resolve of the people who live here to make things right.
Read the al-Jazeera exclusive on the harassment of BP critics: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/11/bp-trolling-facebook-critics-20131112104514166549.html
For more on the surge in BP drilling in the Gulf, check out: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/11/20/2974431/dips-gulf-largest-oil-fleet/