On June 19 2022 a Facebook user posted a concise status update, encouraging others to participate in a June 3 to 5 2022 gas boycott; it read:
Do NOT Buy gas July 3-5!!
Do NOT Buy gas July 3-5!!
Do NOT Buy gas July 3-5!!
As of June 22 2022, the post racked up over a quarter million shares. Google Trends data for the seven-day period ending June 22 2022 demonstrated “Breakout” levels of search interest for terms related to “gas boycott,” including:
- “Gas boycott July 3 5”;
- “Gas July 3 5”;
- “Gas boycott July 3 5 2022”;
- “Don’t buy gas July 3 5”;
- “What’s a boycott”;
- “No gas July 3 5”;
- “Do not buy gas July 3 5”;
- “Gas strike July 3 5B”
- “Do gas boycotts work,” and;
- “July 3-5 gas boycott.”
A search of Reddit turned up several references to the July 3 to 5 gas boycott rumor, often featuring a viral June 16 or 17 2022 TikTok video encouraging Americans to avoid buying gas on the weekend of July 4th in 2022:
In that clip, TikTok user @aidans_98_prelude said:
Do not buy gas for your car July 3rd through the 5th. People are trying to organize a boycott, and hopefully that will bring the price [of gas in July 2022] down. This has been done before, it has worked before, repost this, share, tell people, and participate.
Although the sentiment expressed on both Facebook and TikTok was strong, there was also significant skepticism the July 3 to 5 gas boycott might work. Responses to a June 20 2022 AskReddit thread asking users what the “result” of the proposed July 2022 gas boycott might be were almost entirely negative:
A shorter thread on r/economy (“I’ve heard about the Gas boycott happening July 3-5. Is this actually something that would actually help lower gas prices? Willing to hear any feedback”) featured responses about why such a coordinated action might not produce results:
“1st, it’s not going to happen on the 4th of July. The people who do boycott will fill on July 2 and 6, rather than not consuming which is important for results … If people would slow down and keep to 55mph for the next 6 months, that would make a larger impact than no filling up for 2 days. Average car saves about 25% on fuel at 55mph compared to 70mph, some cars like a Camry is a 40% savings.”
“There has been a bunch of economic research showing that boycotts of this manner are generally unsuccessful. In this case it is due to the fact that consumer demand for gasoline is generally inelastic in the short term. This is to say people who made 4th of july plans and/or have to work cant or won’t really change their behavior … A shortfall in gasoline sales for a couple days will not affect prices. If however people adjust their behavior mid-to long term; eg carpool, ditch their SUVs, move to electric vehicles, bicycle, work from home, order less grubhub and instead walk to pick up their food this will absolutely decrease demand and put a downward pressure on prices.”
A commenter on a related thread in an anti-car subreddit replied at length, explaining:
Gasoline is a commodity. Commodities are damn near impossible to boycott.
The reason why normal boycotts have any hope of success is because replacement products are readily accessible. For example, if you boycott Starbucks, there’s thousands of other coffee shops, plus homemade coffee. Starbucks knows that the boycotters could hold out forever. But what if you boycotted the entire commodity of coffee? Now, the substitutes are imperfect (tea, cola, etc) so it’s harder to do without, and there’s no one person who can capitulate: you don’t win when Starbucks folds, because there’s still a thousand other coffee businesses to crush!
Then to make matters worse: we’ve let every single economic sector become dependent on gasoline. Kill coffee overnight and you have a bunch of cranky people; kill gasoline overnight and you have a bunch of impoverished people. The problem of gasoline is too deeply rooted for a boycott to work. All the boycott could do is reveal how dependent we are.
One last thought: freeing ourselves of gasoline is not hopeless. But just like it took a long time to get rid of horse based transportation, it’ll take a long time to get rid of gasoline based transportation.
The viral Tiktok video from @aidans_98_prelude said that gas boycotts have “worked before,” and there are several old articles and fact checks about previous efforts to boycott gas. A May 2006 Slate.com piece described a local effort to boycott ExxonMobil, and speculated that such efforts rarely have much of an effect.
In 2012, PolitiFact examined a claim about a 1997 gas boycott described in Facebook posts as “successful.” They found:
Fifteen years [prior to 2012], drivers held a successful boycott, according to [a Facebook] post. “In April 1997, there was a ‘gas out’ conducted nationwide in protest of gas prices. Gasoline prices dropped 30 cents a gallon overnight,” it says.
The “gas out” claim has been circulating online for years. As prices at the pump tick up every spring the Internet buzzes with calls for a boycott: if it worked in 1997, why not now? Because it didn’t work then, PolitiFact New Jersey found.
The Facebook post recycles material from chain e-mails. Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, called the claim “an outright myth/lie” and said there’s no evidence to support it.
PolitiFact New Jersey reviewed news archives and found no mention of a boycott in 1997, except in more recent articles referring to the chain e-mails and posts on social networking sites. There were movements pushing national gas boycotts in 1999 and 2000. News reports and data show both efforts gained little support and gas prices had no major fluctuations at the time of the boycotts.
That was also the case for gas prices in April 1997.
In March 2022, PolitiFact reworked the original 2012 fact check in response to another circulating effort to organize a gas boycott, adding:
PolitiFact found no evidence to suggest that this boycott happened, and the experts we consulted in 2022 and 2012 knew of no such protest in 1997. It often takes time for gas prices to respond to changes in demand, so it is unlikely a single-day boycott would drive down prices as quickly and drastically as the post suggests, experts said.
A 2007 NBC News article focused on a similar effort in 2007, also predicated on the purported gas boycott of 1997. It was also was unable to substantiate claims about an effective 1997 gas boycott, and raised many of the same points about shifting demand versus reduced consumption:
Let’s start with the price impact of that alleged “gas out.” In the first week of April 1997, the average price of a gallon of gasoline nationwide was $1.248. By the end of the month, the weekly average was $1.24. If there was a one-day drop of 30 cents a gallon, it doesn’t show up in the statistics compiled by the Department of Energy. (We realize that many readers who are passionate about pump prices believe that this government agency is just a shill for the oil industry, ready to cover up what’s “really going on.” But humor us just this once.)
Some of the other numbers in this widely circulated mail don’t add up either. There are more like 200 million-plus Web users in the U.S., not 73 million. And the $2.3 billion daily revenue figure assumes everyone fills their tank every day, which they don’t.
But even if these numbers were correct, it wouldn’t matter.
The real problem with this idea is that — as some versions of this e-mail helpfully suggest —these “boycotters” simply top off their tanks May 14 or wait to fill them up May 16. All that does is shift sales from one day to another. Any money “lost” from lower gasoline sales on May 15 will be made up with higher sales on the days before and after the “boycott.”
As the July 3 to 5 2022 gas boycott posts went into heavy circulation, many of the same talking points were addressed in coverage of the viral posts:
Do gas boycotts work?
“I’ve never seen a gas boycott result in anything,” Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, told Money.
De Haan says that’s because boycotts don’t actually reduce demand for gas. Participants still fill up — just a day or two earlier or later than they would have done anyway.
“Simply shifting demand one day before or after the boycott doesn’t reduce demand enough to make any difference,” he said. According to De Haan, it would take a sustained reduction in gas consumption — over a period of weeks, not merely days — to reduce demand enough to have an impact on prices … [in June and July 2022,] longer-term trends include the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and reduced capacity at refineries across the globe (a holdover from the early days of the pandemic) — both of which are driving up the price of crude oil. Until the price of oil falls, gas prices aren’t likely to drop much.
Just as calls for a July 2022 gas boycott partly originated on TikTok, so too did a viral video about the role of gas-powered transportation. A June 10 2022 TikTok clip by @trev.p629 lamented global dependence on fossil fuels:
@trev.p629 like boycotting was all we had #gasprices #pricegouging #capitalism #publictransportation #gas #car #boycott #boycotting ♬ original sound – Trevor Patchen
About price gouging, they said in part:
“See, what I hate most about how high the gas prices are is that usually when a business price gouges like this, you just boycott the product and you don’t buy it. But we can’t not buy gas! We have to buy gas because we developed a society that revolves around cars and shit, so we have to buy gas … what the fuck am I supposed to do? We’re the consumers … we should have all the power, but we don’t have any power. We have no power here.”
A June 16 2022 Facebook post (“Do NOT Buy gas July 3-5!!”) and a TikTok video popularized the idea of a July 3 to 5 2022 gas boycott, the latter post claiming that “it had been done before” and that it had also “worked before.” That aspect of the rumor, concerning a prior gas boycott, appeared to reference long-circulating rumors about a purportedly successful gas boycott in 1997. Although people were likely to participate in the efforts, there was no evidence a gas boycott worked in the past. As others pointed out, dependence on fossil fuels made gas difficult to “boycott,” and typically simply ended up concentrating demand to the days immediately prior to and after the dates set for the boycott.