A long and contentious election cycle finally came to an official close on January 20 with the inauguration of our 45th president. In addition to new elected officials, it gave us countless memes and catchphrases - including “fake news.” “Fake news” includes everything from stories spun out of thin air to influence voters to clickbait headlines about dead celebrities. Social media helps these stories, which are designed to mislead for political or financial gain, spread like wildfire.
Last month, Facebook announced it is attempting to limit the spread of misinformation. While I’m glad there is now a broader conversation occurring about ensuring the veracity of content, it is long overdue and has been an issue in “news” coverage of food and agriculture for years. Weed scientist Andrew Kniss noted this on Twitter, sharing screenshots of salacious headlines about GMOs from Joseph Mercola, Natural News and Food & Water Watch.
“Fake news” has plagued animal agriculture as well, with everything from half-truths and misinformation to blatant lies being spread from animal rights activist groups. Remember the picture of calf hutches along with the caption that all the calves would be dead in six weeks from the movie “Earthlings”? What about when IARC’s classification of processed meats caused many outlets to run headlines claiming “bacon causes cancer?” And don’t even get me started about all the myths behind “Meatless Mondays.”
Hopefully, the attempts to curb the spread of fake news will be helpful to those of us working to ensure that coverage of food and agriculture is balanced and accurate. Until it does, it is up to us to rise to the challenge of correcting myths and misinformation. When friends, family, or that person you aren’t sure how you know but somehow are Facebook friends with, share the latest activist claims, take the opportunity to ask a few questions and start a conversation rather than just hiding the post. When a restaurant uses deceptive marketing and shares false information about agriculture, do what this dairy farmer did and speak up.
If you need more inspiration and ideas of how to combat the spread of misleading or straight-up wrong claims, I encourage you to check out the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s 2017 Stakeholders Summit, “Connect to Protect Animal Ag.”
Have you encountered fake news about your industry? How did you respond? Speak up in the comments!