“Despite the tragedy, the show must go on”: An examination of how Venezuela’s PDVSA overshadowed ethical communication with populism.


Orlando E.
Contreras-Pacheco Universidad Industrial de Santander


In the present study, we investigate how populist rhetoric can overshadow the ethical sense of a crisis response. It does it by drawing on the integration between crisis response strategy frameworks and business ethics literature. Our approach is based on how a state-owned company uses its communication channels to communicate with the public during critical crisis periods. To this end, we examine the case of a major oil refinery explosion in Venezuela in 2012. Specifically, we analyze and codify tweets posted through Petróleos de Venezuela S.A.’s corporate Twitter account during and after the incident. The results show how the company joined forces with the Venezuelan government to defend their interests by using populism as a tool, rather than providing information about the crisis and submitting care responses to those affected. Our analysis confirms that they focused on attacking the government’s opponents, backing ideals of popular sovereignty, preaching homogeneity and virtuousness of the individuals, and praising populist leaders. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the company tried to downplay the disaster as it intended to transform bad news into good news during the crisis.