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BP's Nasty Strategies for Silencing Criticism Online and Offline

The final paper in this ECREA 2014 session is by Julie Uldam, whose focus is on the silencing of critical voices in the online public sphere; this is an argument for an agonistic perspective of the public sphere. Antagonism tends to be anticipated and silenced by corporations monitoring social media, often using user profiling strategies.

Her example here is the UK climate justice movement, which reacted to BP's unlikely role as a 'sustainability partner' in the 2012 London Olympics; one of its protests was the Reclaim Shakespeare Company, which riffed off BP's sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company during the Olympics festivities, invading the stage before the official performance and circulating the footage via social media. Leaked emails from BP show the company's tracking of protestors and anticipation of further actions.

Similarly, the movement targetted BP billboards by adding their own messages; such actions were monitored by BP operatives, and the company had the protesters' domain redirected by a compliant Web hosting company. Protest is thus relegated to alternative media platforms only, and excised from the wider public sphere; this creates the illusion of a lack of contradictions between the company's public profile and its corporate actions.