Just how angry are people at BP?
- 4 June 2010
- From the section US & Canada
It's 45 days since the disaster on the Deepwater Horizon rig and the oil spill still isn't fixed, but just how angry are Americans at BP?
There's been blanket coverage on American rolling news stations. Every national politician in the US has the spill at or near the top of his or her agenda.
And BP itself is already fighting a PR war to try to minimise the damage to its reputation from the oil starting to ravage the northern Gulf of Mexico coast.
If Facebook groups are a good indicator of rage, then the US is very angry indeed.
The group dedicated to "Boycott BP" is gaining over 30,000 members every day and is already around the 350,000 mark.
Many vow not to buy BP petrol or products again and express visceral anger towards the oil firm. Some have designed their own logos, satirical takes on BP's green and yellow livery, featuring dripping oil and skulls.
This is an environmental crisis that ordinary people have been able to get to grips with online in a way not possible during the US's other notorious oil spill, the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989.
Now the webcam of the broken pipe with the oil gushing into the sea has proved to be compelling viewing. Hundreds of thousands of people have also watched the footage of robot arms doing their work.
Florida resident David Kearns has launched a one-man campaign of direct action against BP.
He has posted videos on YouTube under the alias Stanley Morton III. One shows him spreading rubbish from his garden over the forecourt of a BP petrol station.
And he attaches banners and placards on fences adjacent to the stations in an effort to get people to stop buying.
"I'm outraged. We live here for our beaches, for our seafood," he says.
"If you get people not to buy the gas at the pumps that hurts them. It is an 'annoycott'."
He perceives success when he sees the price of BP petrol go lower than that of its local competitors.
"If the price of gas has gone down, it's hitting their bottom line."
BP is cagey over the effects on sales of the oil spill so far, and it has yet to be suggested that they are devastating.
The issue will be complicated for many, and such situations can lead to a "mild consumer response", says Prof Monroe Friedman, author of Consumer Boycotts: Effecting Change Through the Marketplace and Media.
He says disastrous environmental incidents caused by companies, such as the spill, "do not necessarily lead to no-buy [action]. They lead to symbolic kinds of action, things short of boycotts.
"Few of these gas stations are actually owned by offending companies, most of them are owned by independent operators.
"You are a consumer and you may be offended by the corporate actions but you may continue to buy the gas at your neighbourhood station. One thing is convenience, you have been doing it for years. You may know the guy who owns the station."
It's a point that has been made by many, who have suggested protesters should only boycott BP products, like Castrol motor oil, but Mr Kearns is not convinced.
"The proprietors are used as human shields," he says.
TONY HAYWARD AND THE PR DRIVE
One lightning rod for anti-BP rage has proved to be chief executive Tony Hayward.
Remarks he made at the weekend, when he suggested he wanted the spill to be over and said "I'd like my life back" generated a wave of ire.
By Wednesday he had to apologise, but bloggers have unkindly noted that BP has had a second gusher in the form of Mr Hayward's gaffe-prone mouth.
Some newspaper and television commentators have demanded his resignation. One national station ran a segment called "Fired Up! He's Gotta Go".
And the idea that BP is spending money on print and television adverts has also drawn criticism - a case of a PR drive proving to be bad PR.
One Facebook commenter captured the mood, saying: "BP invests in a $50m ad campaign, NOW? That is a huge waste of $50m that should be going towards the CLEAN UP. Come on BP - have the fumes gone to your brains already???"
BP has already had to explain that no money is being diverted from the clean-up effort.
While on the Gulf coast it is easy to see banners and placards attacking BP, the signs of rage may not be visible everywhere.
The umbrella group seizeBP.org, which wants the federal government to take all of BP's assets as punishment for the spill, is organising nationwide protests.
But a demonstration at a BP-related site in Washington DC on Thursday only attracted a couple of dozen protesters.
Whether the anger will build into mass demonstrations is unclear.
WHY AREN'T PEOPLE MORE ANGRY?
While it is clear that millions are outraged, their response is not always visible, particularly away from the Gulf states.
"People don't feel at liberty to speak of it [in Louisiana], they are dependent on BP to pay them," says David Kearns.
"In Florida, people don't want to say too much because it's going to hurt tourism."
But he thinks the longer the effects of the spill last, the more rage will build.
"It's true we need to be more angry," he says.