Social Media, Public Participation, and the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Starbird, Kate; Dailey, Dharma; Walker, Ann Hayward; Leschine, Thomas M.; Pavia, Robert; Bostrom, Ann
Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: An International Journal

This research examines how information about an oil spill, its impacts, and the use of dispersants to treat the oil, moved through social media and the surrounding Internet during the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Using a collection of tweets captured during the spill, we employ a mixed-method approach including an in-depth qualitative analysis to examine the content of Twitter posts, the connections that Twitter users made with each other, and the links between Twitter content and the surrounding Internet. This article offers a range of findings to help practitioners and others understand how social media is used by a variety of different actors during a slow-moving, long-term, environmental disaster. We enumerate some of the most salient themes in the Twitter data, noting that concerns about health impacts were more likely to be communicated in tweets about dispersant use, than in the larger conversation. We describe the accounts and behaviors of highly retweeted Twitter users, noting how locals helped to shape the network and the conversation. Importantly, our results show the online crowd wanting to participate in and contribute to response efforts, a finding with implications for future oil spill response.