There are over 1 billion people who are active users of Facebook. The social media channel has seen a steady rise in usage from less than 100 million in 2008 to its current level of 1.49 billion with 5 new profiles created every second. Each day 936 million people log into their Facebook account and, on average, spend 20 minutes reading posts, commenting, liking, following, uploading photos, or doing a variety of other things. Whether you are a Facebook user or not, it is a force that is shaping our world and, more importantly, public opinion.
Facebook was originally created for college students and, in its early days, was dominated by young people. Today, this social media channel covers a wide age and socioeconomic spectrum. It has also become a place where more and more people get their information about food- and health-related issues and, as a result, poses a serious threat to those who use it.
The real attraction of Facebook is its ability to connect people. You can find old classmates and friends you have lost touch with, you can find people who share your interests and opinions. It also turns everyone into a media mogul, pundit, and soapbox preacher with the ability to reach a worldwide audience. But, what is lacking on Facebook is credibility. CNN reports that over 83 million fake profiles and a significant amount of the information posted is false. Items about lost dogs and kidnapped children keep circulating years after the dogs are found and kids returned home safely. This is because of the “share” and “like” buttons. On average each day 4.75 billion pieces of content are shared by people, most of whom never bother to check to see if the information they are sharing is true or not.
This is a particular problem for the food and agriculture sectors. Totally false and outrageous misinformation about food production, nutrition, and health are posted, shared, and re-shared by the millions of consumers on Facebook each day. There are more female Facebook users than male (53% vs 47%), which means a lot of those are mothers making food decisions for their family. Many activist groups use Facebook to target this group with misinformation about food, nutrition, and agriculture. Research has shown that many of these young mothers trust the view of other young mothers over those of nutrition and health experts. This has led to considerable misconceptions about food, nutrition, and agriculture.
For example: if you were to rely on Facebook, you would believe that Monsanto controls the world food supply and is run by a group of evil, greedy, capitalists with horns and a satanic desire to poison us all with science. You would also believe that your milk is laced with toxic chemicals and hormones, and that GMO’s will make you sick and cause birth defects in your children. You would believe that all organically-produced food comes from small farms that use no chemicals and that there is a definite link between antibiotic use in livestock and autism. You would also firmly believe that CAFOs poison wells within a10 mile radius and that margarine was invented to fatten turkeys, but killed them so was instead given to humans. All of these are verifiably false, yet have been shared by millions of Facebook users worldwide.
There are plenty of quick and easy resources for the correct facts on food, nutrition, and agriculture, but far too many people today would rather take as gospel what crosses their Facebook timeline. That is why Facebook can be hazardous to your health and certainly to your view of the world.
By Gary Truitt