Friday, March 15, 2013

Information and Misinformation


This morning I saw something in my twitter feed from @YStarbucksSucks that said "Starbucks' coffee contains acrylamide which is known to cause cancer.”"…  This annoyed me because people might be misinformed.

If you've never heard of acrylamide, here's all you need to know:
1) It's a compound that is found in coffee after the roasting process.  It's also found in bread after baking.  It's found in fries after frying…  In fact, almost anything that goes brown during the cooking/baking/frying/roasting process will have this compound in it, including roasted coffee beans. Thus, since humans started cooking food thousands of years ago, we've been eating it.  
2) Yes, it is a carcinogen, but only when you mass produce it and concentrate it to levels far beyond what's normally found in food.  So in the same way we have smog with numerous known carcinogens but we don't tell people to stop breathing, the same (for now) applies to your food choices.

That aside, the fact that people get misinformed was what really ticked me.

Back in the old days, it was the TV and Newspapers job to educate people.  They largely fouled this up with their constant undertones of irrational fear, hyperbole and media induced drama, but people still got more education from those sources than anywhere else.  Also, whilst this was fairly bad, at least people knew the source of where this information was being fed from, and could just switch off when common sense takes over.  

For instance, when one reporter at my local TV News channel recently started spouting that the Costa Concordia "was a modern day Titanic", it only took about two volleys in a twitter argument before I just concluded she was being irrationally dramatic, discounted her point of view, and then decided to mothball her from my mental understanding of reporters I trust.  

In social media, can you do the same?  

We often don't know who sits behind the twitter accounts we encounter, or what their expertise is in certain subjects, or what their motives are.  However, people forward information as retweets and some people are gullible enough to believe whatever information they're being fed from these new mediums.

This is a massive problem.  Also, I don't know what's being done to educate people about it.