Someone working in or for the oil industry appears to be resorting to astroturfing to bolster support for the controversial proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Alberta down to Texas if approved by the Obama administration.
The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) thinks the American Petroleum Institute and its oil lobby allies are behind a slew of fake Twitter accounts designed to give the impression that public opinion is for the pipeline.
The proposal has raised concerns among environmentalists, farmers, ranchers, and landowners, however. Many tweeps following the debate have been using the hash tag "#tarsands" to discuss the pipeline.
On Aug. 3, RAN noticed a group of Twitter handles posting the same tweet, "#tarsands the truth is out!" followed by a link to the American Petroleum Institute Web page about the tar sands. Then those accounts sent out another link, this time to the Nebraska Energy Forum, a state-based group sponsored by API that has also been heavily involved in promoting tar sands development.
RAN's Brant Olson has compiled a list of the apparently fake handles.
Take, for example, droidude7816, j"a regular old Star Wars fan from Chicago who's in a intimate relationship with his girlfriend Sarah." His short self-description also notes, "I own pretty much every starwar movie, action figure etc.," and "I'm also one who cares about the environment." It even has a little photo of a guy having a light-saber fight with Darth Vader! But all of his 27 tweets are about Keystone XL.
There's also SarahMama2, who claims to be just your average mother of a toddler who happens to tweet compulsively about the pipeline. And there's JennyJohnson10, "a single woman that works full time at a fitness center" and has "2 cats 1 dog and 1 snake" but only tweets about the tar sands. Or her Twitter friend kyleland1, who claims to be a Pizza Hut manager from Omaha who believes that "if you like pizza you should also like #keystonexl and the sweet #oilsands it benefits #nebraska." (Source: Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones, Aug. 4, 2011)