Apr 7, 2020 - Energy & Environment

A historic oil market crash is hardly registering because of coronavirus

Amy Harder, author of Generate
Note: Stories limited to English language, North American publishers only. Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Axios Visuals

Sure, the oil industry is in historic turmoil, but with an entire world gripped by the coronavirus crisis, social media users are gravitating to other topics.

Driving the news: Social media interactions on stories about oil and gasoline prices have consistently ranked relatively low during the past month as the coronavirus crisis choked oil demand and wreaked havoc on the industry, according to NewsWhip data provided to Axios.

The big picture: The pandemic is upending the lives of virtually everyone on Earth and throwing nearly every industry into chaos. Sectors that are more consumer-facing, like restaurants, see the most social engagement online.

The intrigue: One of the direct repercussions of this unprecedented oil-industry turmoil is rock-bottom oil — and therefore, gasoline prices. Here’s the rub:

  • People hardly dwell on cheap gas prices in normal times, but that's even more the case now as most of us aren’t driving or flying nearly as much.
  • Only when energy is expensive or gone do the masses really pay attention.
  • This makes it especially hard to convey the sector’s struggles to the masses — and President Trump, who loves cheap oil.

Where it stands: Stories on oil and gas prices saw the highest engagement in early March, right around the time a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia broke out and prompted a big drop in oil prices.

Flashback: Benedict Nicholson, head of research and editorial at NewsWhip, notes that oil news in general received more engagement at the end of July 2019, right when the Green New Deal was receiving a lot of media attention.

Yes, but: Engagement online is just one narrow — but influential — barometer of attention.

Go deeper: Oil is America’s other economic crisis

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