WEST CHESTER, PA — On Monday, the VISTA Today website received an angry backlash on Facebook from Chester County residents for an article entitled, “Nearing Completion, Mariner East 2 Pipeline to Safely Deliver the Energy Our Nation Needs” by Mark Hostutler.
The article claims the Sunoco Mariner East 2 project is positive for the local economy and reports that safety is the centerpiece of pipeline construction and operation. However, as MyChesCo previously posted, the project has been plagued by safety issues, suspensions, lawsuits, and fines. A few samples include:
- State Senator Andy Dinniman filed a formal legal complaint and a petition for interim emergency relief with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission
- West Whiteland Township Supervisors formally supported Senator Dinniman’s efforts
- The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a $12.6 million civil penalty to Sunoco Pipeline, LLP for permit violations
- Virginia Kerslake, a West Whiteland resident, testified in Harrisburg about local safety and economic concerns
- West Chester Area and Downingtown Area School Districts have called for a risk assessment
The failure of VISTA Today to acknowledge legitimate local concerns regarding the risk to life and property had Facebook users outraged and questioning the online publication’s legitimacy.
Examples of the Reactions
Rand Kehler: “It’s obvious the author mark hostutler has been living under a rock and or has been paid off by Sunoco and Energy Transfer Partners to write this!”
Rosemary Fuller: “Domestic ingenuity … give me a break! Are they including the violation of local environments? They were fined for that. Are they including the damage to private wells? They’ve been fined for that! Are they including lying to residents about the hook-up to water buffalo’s while their wells are at risk? We have proof of that and they received Township fines for doing so. Are they including all the leaks that occurred that their ‘sophisticated detection systems’ never picked up? Are they including that as a pipeline construction company they have just about the worst record in the industry out of nearly 2,000 companies?! Of course they’re not! This is the worst kind of exploitive, powerful, deceptive, corrupt, cheating, lying company there is. And we know it because we have direct experience of everything i just mentioned. Anyone need documents?”
P.k. Ditty: “MARINER EAST PIPELINES are NOT for energy needs of any nation- please stop spreading #fakenews These pipelines are taking citizens property ONLY so ETP/Sunoco, Rangel resources, console can make loads of money by supplying INEOS with ethane – SO THEY CAN SHIP IT OVERSEAS TO EUROPE so this polluting chemical plant can make PLASTICS!!! Your supporting taking AMERICAN SOIL – hard working, tax paying, American citizens property thru eminent domain so a FEW TERRORISTIC PRIVATE COMPANIES PROFIT. That’s TREASONOUS! Those standing up to defend their CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS and their HUMAN RIGHTS are PATRIOTS and defenders of this planet. Stop drinking the KOOL AIDE!! Anyways – It’s probably laced with round up!! #planetOverProfit #peopleoverProfit”
Rebecca Britton: “This economic development that is right for Chester County. The long term economic vitality of our region is being jeopardized by colorless, odorless, heavier than air gases. Who would want to open a business next to a known hazard that is a new risk? This pipeline’s contents is used for plastic production in Europe. We take all the risk and see none of the reward. 40 schools statewide in the blast zone and 30k Chester County residents alone in the half-mile evac zone. We can’t even depend on our senses to help us!”
Uwchlan Safety Coalition: “Non-sensical legal actions? Like reporting violations to the DEP and PUC? Sunoco has well over 60 Notices of Violation from the DEP.”
VISTA Today’s Response
In response, VISTA Today wrote, “Full disclosure; as seen on our home page, Energy Transfer Partners is a VISTA Today Affiliate Partner. As we do will all our affiliate partners, we frequently share stories written from their point of view as it relates Chester County’s long-term economic development.”
However, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) does have disclosure requirements for all forms of online sponsored content, including sponsored articles. According to FTC guidelines, publishers should provide a clear and easy to read the disclosure at the top of any sponsored article, not relying on a homepage or single-page disclosure for notice.
VISTA Today writes “positive and upbeat” articles for roughly 50 sponsors, which include the likes of Sunoco, the Chester County Economic Development Council, Downingtown National Bank, and many other well-known companies and business associations.
Regardless, VISTA Today’s sponsors may also be culpable for any alleged failure to properly disclose sponsored content. The FTC’s guidelines require a publisher or media website’s sponsors to (1) ensure that sponsored articles provide “substantiating objective product claims”, (2) inform the publisher or media website of sponsored content disclosure requirements, (3) audit what the publisher or media website is posting about them, and (4) follow up when they discover any questionable practices.
Ultimately, a sponsored article is advertising. So, one can understand the charge of “Fake News” when a publisher fails to provide a clear and easy to read disclosure at the top of the sponsored article. Yet, despite FTC requirements, the failure to properly distinguish between sponsored articles and traditional editorial content is rampant across the internet. Online readers must always be vigilant.
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