CSR and new battle lines in online PR war: A case study of the energy sector and its discontents

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Authors: McQueen, D.

Journal: Developments in Corporate Governance and Responsibility

Volume: 7

Pages: 99-125

eISSN: 2043-0531

ISSN: 2043-0523

DOI: 10.1108/S2043-052320150000007008

© 2015 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Purpose - The focus of the chapter is on disputes around corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the fossil fuel industry and how media and social networking technologies are deployed in a virtual war between oil corporations and dissident, activist and protest groups. Methodology/approach - Communications by BP, Shell, and their opponents in this virtual war are compared, especially in relation to the creative use of the internet, digital technologies, and social media. Through a case study approach, the chapter shows how communications often center on contested notions of CSR and claims by the oil giants about their environmental impact, which opponents dismiss as "greenwashing." The various techniques deployed by both sides in this wideranging "PR war" are explored and contrasted in detail. Findings - The findings for each case study reveal the diverse, complex, and changing nature of the relationship between the oil industry and its critics. The chapter concludes by arguing that if CSR is seen as "greenwashing" by the public, it is only likely to fuel widespread skepticism of the oil and gas sector and of corporate claims about the environment more generally. Research limitations/implications - The research offers a snapshot of online and social media campaigns and PR strategies and tactics within the oil and gas industry rather than empirically grounded set of findings that can be easily applied to other fields. Practical implications - Practical implications include attention to inflated or understated claims and the use of citizen testimony and humor to puncture CSR "rhetoric." There is consideration of use of digital technologies by activists and attention to the way public debates and consultations are conducted. The need for a more respectful engagement with local communities by all parties engaging in public relations is underlined. Originality/value - The chapter applies the concept of "asymmetrical warfare" from conflict studies within the media and communications tradition to provide a fresh revaluation of the term "PR war," It offers a rare focus on online efforts by activist to subvert CSR-related branding, marketing, and communications. Discussion of the use of parody alongside factual and emotional arguments to challenge corporate hegemony also provides revealing insights.

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