NOTE: See the bottom of this post for a very bizarre correction.
Along the beleaguered Gulf Coast, the emergency measure known as "top kill" appears to have halted the flow of oil from a ruptured offshore BP well--but the bogus Twitter sensation known as @BPGlobalPR continues to gush out black comedy gold.
"Just got the concession call from Exxon Valdez. They were great competitors and remarkably evil about everything," the account, which claims to be written by the British oil giant's public relations department, tweeted shortly after the unfortunate revelation that the recent Gulf Coast disaster had surpassed the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in volume. "They want to fine us $4,300 for every barrel of oil spilled? Umm, we're not spilling barrels, the oil is going directly into the gulf. DUH," @BPGlobalPR asserted irreverently on Wednesday.
As the follower count of @BPGlobalPR starts to edge past 60,000 people just over one week after its inaugural tweet, the identity of the author remains completely unknown.
Anonymity on the Web is a complicated issue: It enables the ghastliest of YouTube comments, but at the same time it makes @BPGlobalPR all the more hilarious, icing the story with thick swaths of intrigue. Who's behind it? Is the rumor true that BP has petitioned to Twitter to have the account banned? How soon until it gets acquired by The Onion?
The flurry of speculation is remarkably similar to when a satirical blog called The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs--presenting a particularly megalomaniacal caricature of the Apple CEO--started gaining momentum three years ago, and continued under complete anonymity for several months until it was finally outed as tech writer Dan Lyons. Lyons kept up the blog, which he eventually turned into a book and a TV pilot deal, but it lost a little bit of its luster once the author was unmasked.
@BPGlobalPR, which pretends to be written by a fictional BP employee named "Terry" (interesting that the author chose a gender-ambiguous name), has done several "interviews" with outlets like Mashable. But as Fake Steve Jobs did before he was outed as Lyons, "Terry" has stayed in character for the interviews.
Now, signs continue to point to the likelihood that @BPGlobalPR is authored by someone working for a well-known comedy outlet. Advertising Age speculated that it may be connected to someone at Funny Or Die, because a staffer from that online comedy outlet was the account's first follower. CNET received a tip that it was a CollegeHumor writer, but CollegeHumor co-founder Ricky Van Veen's response when questioned was, "I don't think so." Others wonder whether it's the work of provocative culture-jamming group The Yes Men, who have skewered oil companies before.
This reporter had a personal theory that "Terry" is Brett Michael Dykes, the New Orleans-based blogger behind a now-defunct satirical blog that claimed to be written by Gawker Media founder Nick Denton. This was proven wrong when Dykes, who uses the online alias "Cajun Boy," responded to an e-mail with "No, but I'm p***ed that I didn't think of it."
It appears that whoever "Terry" is, he or she may get to keep on tweeting. Regarding the rumor spreading on Twitter that BP had petitioned to Twitter to have the account taken down, a Twitter representative declined to comment, and a call to BP's actual public relations department was met with an "I have no idea, I'm sorry." Oddly enough, it speaks well of BP if the company isn't trying to have the satirical account banned, but there may be a change regardless as Twitter requires parody and tribute accounts to be explicitly flagged as such. Last year, Twitter suspended an unofficial Dalai Lama account that looked like it was pretending to come from the spiritual leader himself; it returned once the author made it clear that it was a tribute.
BP has a real Twitter account, @BP_America, which @BPGlobalPR repeatedly accuses of being an impostor.
Update Friday 3:45 p.m. PDT: Wired magazine writer Mat Honan seemed to out Mike Monteiro as the author of @BPGlobalPR on Wednesday in a message that claimed Monteiro was the author of the account and had scored a book deal for it already, then said in a tweet immediately following that he was joking. CNET's original correction on this story implied that the joke was about the book deal, but not the authorship of the account itself; in a lengthy conversation currently indexed in the dregs of Twitter (bring popcorn), Honan asserted explicitly that he was joking about the whole thing.
Wired magazine's Twitter feed retweeted the original tweet; Monteiro denied it obliquely, appeared to finally admit to it, and then denied it again. Monteiro has not responded to an e-mail request for comment. Considering both Honan and Monteiro are well-known Twitter jokesters (Honan's Twitter account is even known as "Fake Mat Honan"), the situation remains a mystery.
The entire Twitter conversation turned into a massive feat of dizzying digital mudslinging. I recommend that instead of attempting to parse it, that you help out Gulf Coast wildlife affected by the oil spill by donating $10 to the National Wildlife Federation through the text-message code "WILDLIFE" to the number "20222."