So a few weeks ago Chevron- one of the biggest oil companies in the world- took the plunge and set up shop on Facebook, spinning yarns about its corporate social responsibility and how it is helping the world in so many ways. But a funny thing about social media is that it generally isn’t filtered through the tightly controlled lens of the mainstream media. After a few weeks of getting pounded by growing populist anger over climate change, oil spills, and especially the failure of the company to take responsibility for their environmental destruction in Ecuador, the top executives at Chevron must be asking why they ever ventured onto Facebook in the first place.
At first, the wizard behind the curtain- Chevron itself- was responding to comments and it felt- almost dirty- to be able to speak directly to this mega-corporation, a little like skyping with Dick Cheney over morning eggs and coffee about the latest Halliburton coup. But as it became clear that comments were bringing up uncomfortable realities about the oil industry, it seems that Chevron has directed its employees and surrogates to engage with the public, in that sort of painful, forced, cringeworthy denialist corporate- speak (like Sarah Hughes’ comment above). As Upton Sinclair once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on him not understanding it.”
I almost feel sorry for Chevron. Almost. To add to their troubles, a couple of weeks ago they lost a court case brought by Communities for a Better Environment that has halted their expansion of the Richmond refinery to be able to process dirtier crude from the Alberta Tar Sands.
It’s not like Chevron employees are all bad people- I even know a few of them. It’s just that their paycheck happens to come from a corporation that is responsible for the largest source of CO2 in California, has poisoned countless Ecuadorans and is refusing to take responsibility for it, and several decades ago was found guilty of conspiracy to destroy public transit systems that would now be worth trillions of dollars.
The on the level blogger has been pointing out such things on Chevron’s page of late. If you want to join the fun, you’re going to have to hold your nose and sign up to “like” Chevron before you can post comments. The goal is not to drive the company back into its corporate bunker mentality, but to share the deep and widespread discontent out there about oil and fossil fuels- a discontent that has ballooned in the last couple of weeks after the spill in the gulf. Activists are now calling for a day of action and night of mourning about the spill this Friday May 14th where pent up anger is bound to be spilled.
The disaster could easily have been caused by Chevron- like BP they contract with Transocean for deep water drilling. And like BP they have been working to water down federal safety and environmental regulations for decades. We all need to pull together and stop the madness. We need to Change Chevron. And ultimately we need to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels and move to a system that puts the priority back where it should be- on human health and the environment- not short term profits.
We’re all still figuring out how individuals, governments, and corporations are going to interact in an age of online social media. When a corporation like Chevron wades into Facebook chit chat, it’s an opportunity to voice our discontent, perhaps injecting some clarity into a world whose waters are increasingly murky.