Fake News Also Plagues Ag and Food

It took an election over the Oval Office, but it seems some of the Internet’s biggest companies are now saying, just maybe, they have a role to play in wrangling up false and fake news. Google and Facebook have both announced that they will cut off the advertising revenue for websites that produce fake news.

Here’s how it works.

People create websites with stunning headlines and stories, and then post them to social media. This click-bait then means someone heads over to the website for more information, not realizing it is fake. The banner ads around the page put money in the creator’s pocket. It would seem that the more sensational the news, the more it is shared. The more it is shared, the more it drives the creator to make something even more sensational next time, so that they can cash in on all of the ads.

It is a step in the right direction, and I don’t want to take away from Google and Facebook’s efforts, but this problem is more than just a few bad articles and ads.

Some of the best at it sell products — they sell their own ads (that Google and Facebook can’t cut off), sell books, and more. I want to highlight a few of my favourites:

Joseph Mercola is no stranger to anyone that likes to keep up on their quack doctors. He is big on telling you what will give you cancer. Vaccines are one (plus he thinks they do far more damage than that) Microwave popcorn, tapwater, or cereal. I’d post the links for you to believe, but then he’d get more ad revenue. If you are desperate, a list of some of his most famous cancer causing articles is here. He has almost 1.5 million likes on Facebook, and the book The Wellness Revolution boasts Mercola’s traffic is around 2.5 million visitors a month.

Now, Mercola likes to think he takes the high road. He brags in several places that he does not accept advertising or sponsorship for his website. However he does sell ‘health’ products. And not just your typical fish oils, but also cookware, pet food, tampons, and mattresses. All with his stamp of approval that they won’t cause cancer or kill you – like the other products you buy at the grocery store, drug store or online. The Wellness Revolution states that if Mercola ever wanted to unload his website and online health shop business that goes along with it, he could make $100 million dollars.

Mike Adams of NaturalNews is even worse. Pushing the anti-vaccination movement, comparing the push for vaccinations in society as similar to the Nazi movement in Germany. Every false claim you have ever heard about vaccines has likely been publish by Mike. He has two million likes on Facebook. He’s even been connected to a website that suggested people harm or even kill scientists, researchers and journalists who are in favour of GMOs.

I don’t know Mike personally. Maybe he believes it all under his tin hat, but the fact he boasts 11 million page views per month in his advertising section — and I count 36 links to either buy products from his store, or buy products from other people — it is safe to say the traffic will be profitable.

The famous Food Babe is another. Vani Hari pushes the idea that any chemical in food, shouldn’t be there. Whether or not she’s looked at the periodic table or not, doesn’t matter. Her over one million likes on Facebook help drive the 54 million visitors she gets per year. From there, she tells you about the toxic effect of your latte, beer, or bread, the nutrients that are killed when you microwave food, the benefits of raw milk, and how antiperspirants cause breast cancer.

Luckily, like the others – she has a cure. And she’ll happily help sell it to you. You see, if you can post a link to a product on Amazon, Amazon will happily send you a commission for you at about 8%. You don’t do anything but sign-up and then link to your site. You can always buy books or have Vani speak to your group. All of which, is leading to her making huge money from scary people around the aisle of the grocery store.

These are only a few of the seedy characters that prey on unsuspecting victims. There are plenty more.

Google and Facebook, I congratulate you on trying to cut off income sources for people like these – but they’ve been at it so long that they’ve built a business that doesn’t need the ads. If these companies want to get serious about helping quash fake and false information – they’ll have to do more.

It certainly runs a tricky line from protection to censorship, but right now 2.7 million children are dying every year, because of the fake fears of a GMO rice that could get more Vitamin A into kids in some of the poorest corner of the world. In North America, tens of thousands of people get sick or die from diseases like measles, and whooping cough – all because fake information that scared people away from immunization.

People are getting sick. People are dying.

All because a select few have figured out how to take advantage of people when they are weak, want a cure, and are happy to pay.

Related: Countering Pop Culture Pseudoscience: A Fireside Chat with Dr. Joe Schwarcz

 

Andrew Campbell

Andrew is a dairy farmer in southern Ontario who also specializes in helping farmers learn about social media and advocacy. Once broadcasting farm news reports on the radio, he still likes to keep a close eye on news and issues relating to agriculture. Andrew is the owner of Fresh Air Media (http://www.thefreshair.ca), has a mild addiction to Twitter and believes the Brier & Scotties are the most important sporting events in the country. @FreshAirFarmer

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5 Comments

J.Garlough

Great article. A recent study showing that students have a great deal of difficulty assessing information sources makes me feel the situation is going to get much worse before it gets better. The tactics these groups are using to prey on unsuspecting victims are no different than how the Ag/Tabacco industry used to promote cigarettes & smoking in the 40’s & 50’s and how the Ag/Sugar industry used to promote sugar in the 60’s & 70’s. The difference is now you can reach tens of millions of people without having to spend a cent on tv/print or radio advertising. While getting sites to cut off the revenue to those who produce fake news may make a small impact on revenue, it does nothing to address the root issue of generations of Canadians not being taught to think critically about what we see in the media.

Growing up in rural Ontario I fondly remember “Dairy Educators” coming to my school to teach our class about how healthy chocolate milk is for us then giving us free chocolate milk, I remember beef farmers coming to feed us cheeseburgers to teach us how healthy beef is, and I remember some chicken farming group (CFO maybe?) visiting our class every year or so to teach us about eggs and share omelets and chickenwings. I am not saying any of that is horrid or bad, but I am certain that at no point did we have an annual visit from anyone to talk about how to think critically about something we hear on the news, see in advertising or read on packaging.

(Reference: Study on students – http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/11/23/503129818/study-finds-students-have-dismaying-inability-to-tell-fake-news-from-real
No adverse effects from smoking: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/19/57/d6/1957d6aae56861b989cdbc78963908ad.jpg
You need Sugar ads: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/51/cd/96/51cd96e151f5f9d262cb8bb79e136d78.jpg)

Reply
richardbarrett

Andrew, Do you drink your milk raw? What are the benefits of drinking raw milk ? Maybe you should not have mentioned it. I went into a organic grocery store to get Vital Greens ‘s non- homogenized, low pasteurized milk but none for 2 days but might come the next day. Cashier says it quickly disappears, yet lots of organic homogenized milk stays there. Consumers will pay 3 times more for Raw Milk when the cows eat no grain. If you wonder why, go to http://www.rawmilkconsumer.ca , then Alberta Milk ‘Ask a Dairy Farmer’, using their link go to Organic Dairy. Then go to http://www.realmilk.com for more information which in your view may be only 80% correct. Sure was interesting when they magnified: Raw Milk, Pasteurized Milk, and Homogenized Milk. If you want to exchange information, questions, or comments , please e-mail : [email protected]. Thanks for the great article.

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richardbarrett

Could someone please help me understand how what I wrote could be labeled spam. On the Organic Council of Ontario’s web site, http://www.OCO_Benefits_of_Organic_vs_Conventional_Dairy_FINAL_1_pdf, they had a comparison of Organic vs. Conventional Dairy, April, 2013. Research showed 3 benefits from consuming organic milk: 1. reduced eczema 2. an increased level of essential fatty acids. 3. potential for higher vitamin concentration. May I add two more studies: the Gabriela and Parsifal. “stupid” explain more!

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