If you use a search engine to look for such topics as "BP," "oil spill," or "Gulf of Mexico oil spill," it is likely that the first link will take you directly to British Petroleum's Web site. This is no coincidence -- BP is paying for the privilege of being number one.
BP confirms that as part of its public relations effort, it is indeed buying-up the search terms. BP spokesman Max McGahan says it is part of the company's effort to get information quickly and efficiently to the public. McGahan wouldn't say how much this is costing, but industry experts estimate the oil giant is spending anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 per day.
However, media watchdogs offer a more cynical opinion of BP's actions. They say this is BP's way of controlling the story, of getting its version of the truth out there. And perhaps the worst part, most people have no idea what is going on.
“Most people assume when you do a search that the things that appear front and center are in some sense the most important,” says Fordham University media expert Paul Levinson. “The average person searching online isn’t aware of the fact that there are ways to manipulate the way things come up in searches.”
All of this would be acceptable if the BP links offered good information about the oil spill disaster. But author Richard Laermer says that is not the case. “BP’s links are some of the worst – they don’t explain or help the situation at all.”
The best advice is that when you read a story on the Internet, consider the source before deciding to believe everything you read.