The Wiki Crisis CopyrightDiStaso, M. W., Messner, M., & Stacks, D. W. (2012).  The wiki crisis: BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Wikipedia. In S. C. Duhé (Ed.), New media & public relations (2nd ed., pp. 302-310). New York:  Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.


In times of crisis, people turn to the Internet and the use of social media increases. Social media coverage is believed to have a higher level of credibility than traditional news media coverage. On April 20, 2010, the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico caused an existential crisis for BP and information about it quickly became available on Wikipedia. By analyzing the Wikipedia content for this crisis over a year from the day of the explosion, this study found that the crisis information at the fingertips of the public was a top loading in search engines, had a higher number of views and more edits than the main BP article, predominately contained negative content, and had high levels of news media references.


A longitudinal content analysis of tone and referencing was conducted over the course of one year between April 2010 and April 2011 of the three Wikipedia articles on BP, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the Deepwater Horizon Explosion. In addition, editing patterns and search result rankings for the Wikipedia articles were examined.

Key Findings

1)      All Wikipedia articles have great potential influence ranking high in search engines.

2)      Public opinion of the Wikipedia articles was formed from a high number of edits by a high number of editors.

3)      The amount of content on the BP Deepwater Horizon crisis grew greatly on all three articles.

4)      The crisis content in the Wikipedia articles was predominantly negative.

5)      All articles had increases in the references for the crisis content and these references were predominantly news media reports.

Implications for Practice

The findings of this study are a call to action for public relations practitioners. They demonstrate that Wikipedia expands the conventional practice of public relations by providing another medium to monitor. Not monitoring Wikipedia regularly is a dangerous neglect. While social media networks like Facebook and Twitter are fast-moving platforms, on which online crises come and go, Wikipedia’s collaboratively created content remains a convenient resource for the public. Professionals should be part of the Wikipedia process during a crisis by using the Talk pages before debates over the framing of content are settled by the collective of editors.

Article Location

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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