Environmental Risks and the Network Society: The Media Politics of the BP Gulf of Mexico Disaster

Alison Anderson.


This paper examines the analytical utility of the concept of ‘network society’ for an understanding of the media politics of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The convergence of mass media and the global web of horizontal communication networks have opened up new opportunities for the environmental movement to assert its own agendas. Who gains media access, why and how, raises key questions about power relations in society and the nature of news production. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is widely regarded as a classic public relations disaster from the point of view of BP, which was initially highly reactive, slow to use social media, and made numerous communication gaffes. By contrast environmental activists mobilized faster and attempted to dramatically subvert BP’s messages through the mediums of Facebook and Twitter. However, this paper argues that while many environmental groups gained enhanced visibility, rarely do established structures of media and political power become fundamentally challenged. This raises important questions about the changing nature of environmental journalism and the ways in which industry is responding.