Two years since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst oil spill in history, there is still ongoing litigation and investigation regarding its impact across multiple aspects of life. It was a disaster which occurred in the current era of modern communication,which as we well know is characterized by decentralized platforms such as twitter, Facebook, blogs and more. This makes the classic issue of communicating a crisis much more interesting and up for discussion. Crisis communication, technology, and the BP oil spill are the three main topics researchers from several US states sought to address in a recent article entitled “Damage Control: Rhetoric and New Media Technologies in the Aftermath of the BP Oil Spill.”
Throughout the unfolding of the terrible environmental disaster, the main actor was surely BP, followed closely by the US government which is actively involved in turns of protecting communities, the environment, industry and more. Both BP and agencies of the US government put out constant updates with a mix of information and rhetoric to explain what was taking place and the impact it would or could have. Typically this could be considered crisis communication, which in the past was very centralized to the point that we could talk about the event and how it was communicated using only a few main sources of information. But in 2010, like today, there plenty of other sources of information, analysis, commentary and observation, which put out their own reports independently of the government or the corporation.
In their analysis the researchers took this into consideration while also examining tweets and other new media communication put out by BP during the first 40 days of this crisis. Keywords and themes were categorized and revealed that the company’s approach was to try and put out much information about what was happening, especially their company’s actions in response. Obviously a far from cry from the old days of the ExxonValdez where Exxon provided little information and was across the board condemned for their handling of the crisis.
While it has been two years since the Deep Water Horizon, the information distribution and analysis continues online. Topics connected to long term effects, such as fisheries and heath, are still being examined. The difference in terms of crisis communication and this particular situation, as this article points out, is that now scientists have an essential role they can play without having to be involved directly with the corporation or the government agencies. Using the decentralized and relatively open communition tools of today’s internet, they can disseminate information and analysis based on real science, directly to the public.
Photo: republicanconference/ flickr
Reference: Z. Hall, Brent Kice, & Jinbong Choi (2012). Damage Control: Rhetoric and New Media Technologies in the Aftermath of the BP Oil Spill Poroi , 8 (1)