Facebook has become a valuable tool for brands to interact with consumers, but what happens when that interaction turns into aggression? Al Jazeera ran a lengthy story about users of the social network accusing embattled oil company BP of threatening them after critical posts, while BP deflected the blame to its public-relations company, Ogilvy & Mather.
An anonymous Facebook user named “Marie” is the focal point of the Al Jazeera story, as she said she has sought help from Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group the Government Accountability Project, providing GAP with “boxes of documents” — complaint letters, screenshots, and a list of Facebook profiles used by people who threatened her — to back her claims.
GAP Investigator Shanna Devine told Al Jazeera that the threats to Marie and others began on the BP Facebook page, but escalated elsewhere, including references to shotguns and knowing where posters lived, adding:
We’d been hearing of this kind of harassment by BP when we were working on our health project (in the Gulf of Mexico), so it sparked our interest. We saw Marie’s documentation of more serious threats made on the BP page, and decided to investigate.
We’ve seen all of this documentation and that’s why we thought it was worth bringing to the ombudsman’s office of BP, and we told them we thought some of it even warranted calling the police about.
Certified legal investigator Steve Lockman of Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor told Al Jazeera:
We have thousands of documents regarding communications posted through various Facebook websites. In addition, we are in possession of communications between the federal government and the ombudsman’s office of BP regarding the Internet communications, and the federal government requesting BP to control the harassment through its Facebook page and their interactions.
The harassment communications are not something that BP and their people are not aware of. It’s not a hidden secret that the personal attacks, broadcast abuse, and type-written harassment were happening and continue to go on.
The information we possess regarding Marie’s claims, printed out, fills two file boxes, and that does not include all of the DVDs that are currently being duplicated at this time. It is an unbelievable amount of documentation that has been developed. This documentation, support materials, and information is coming from several different sources. It is like a spider web, and we just got started.
Marie detailed some of the threats to Al Jazeera, saying that the abuse was extended to her personal Facebook page and those of others who were critical of the company, and adding that threats included posting a photo of a BP critic’s pet bird in the crosshairs of a gun, as well as photos of semi-automatic weapons. She added:
I was called a lot of names. I was called a streetwalker and a lot of things like that, and eventually had gun threats.
They resorted to very demeaning methods of abuse. 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.
A BP spokesman told Al Jazeera:
The BP America Facebook page, and its moderators, do not endorse or dictate any user activity. All users’ comments and actions are their own. BP created the BP America Facebook page to engage the public in an informative conversation about our ongoing commitment to America and to facilitate constructive dialogue for any and all who wish to participate. No users are compensated for participating in the Facebook community.
And BP Deputy Ombudsman Billie Garde said in a December 2012 letter to GAP, as reported by Al Jazeera:
BP America contracts management of its Facebook page to Ogilvy Public Relations. Ogilvy manages all of BP America’s social media matters.
According to BP America, Ogilvy has a group of 10 individuals in different time zones that perform comment screening of the page.
She added that only 9 percent of comments on the oil company’s Facebook page were considered “supportive,” which was actually up from previous years, and described Oglivy’s “three-strike” policy on comments:
Meaning if they find a comment to be in violation of the commenting policy, they delete the comment and record a strike against the user, and three strikes means a user is no longer able to comment on the page. It is also noted that Ogilvy will delete offending comments and send a note to the user indicating that the comment was inappropriate.
BP America has informed our office that Ogilvy strictly adheres to the commenting policy as stated on the BP America Facebook page. This policy serves as the guidelines that Ogilvy follows when evaluating the appropriateness of comments. Ogilvy does not evaluate a comment with respect to it being a positive or negative statement towards BP. Likewise, they do not delete any comments based on either of these qualifiers.
The Al Jazeera post goes into far more detail on this story.
Readers: Who is at fault: BP, Oglivy & Mather, or the individual Facebook users posting threats?