Editor’s Column: How to debunk misinformation

Table 1: Canadians (2,903 in total) were asked to rate their level of trust towards a number of food system stakeholders on several topics, across all areas, Canadians have the most trust in farmers.

There’s no one better placed to tell the story of food production in Canada than farmers. According to an annual survey on public trust and confidence in Canada’s food system, Canadians have the most trust in farmers when asked to rate trust levels toward a variety of food system stakeholders.

The report’s fifth edition, 2020 Public Trust Research Report: Trends in Trust and the Path Forward, was released last November by the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI). In the report, farmers were rated No. 1 for food safety, overall trust and providing information about food when compared with other food system stakeholders (see table at top).

The survey indicated confidence in Canada’s food system is at an all-time high. And the proportion of Canadians who feel our food system is headed in the right direction reached a five-year high with a significant 12-point increase compared with 2019. All of this during the COVID-19 pandemic, when our food system was under unprecedented pressure and public scrutiny.

According to the report, the sector remained strong, resulting in Canadians feeling optimistic about their food supply. Specifically, the food system’s response to the pandemic is highly praised by Canadians — nearly nine in 10, or 87 per cent, trust the food system will ensure the availability of healthy food for Canadians.

Your voice matters

As the most trusted voice in the food system, your stories about food production are important. And due to the recent confidence boost in our food system, now is a great time to build on this momentum.

There are a lot of great ag stories out there to tell. Related to this, and equally important, is to dispel myths and misinformation surrounding agriculture.

Timothy Caulfield, author and Canada research chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, also believes farmers are well placed to battle misinformation because they’re viewed as both experts and trusted voices.

During his keynote presentation, “Infodemics: Food, Fear and Agriculture,” at the Farming Smarter 2020 Conference and Trade Show last month, Caulfield said it is becoming increasingly important to debunk misinformation.

We all have a tendency to shy away from countering misinformation, whether the source is social media, the news, the public or even among friends and family. I am often amazed by the misinformation I hear about farming practices and food production. Even my family, who hears about crop production and agriculture on a daily basis, will repeat to me something entirely false they’ve read on social media or by Googling a topic.

Caulfield urged conference attendees to become part of the “debunking army,” and to expose fallacies around ag. For example, he cited studies that showed debunking misinformation about GMOs can change people’s perceptions about the issue.

He also offered nine effective debunking tools. These are a great place to start if you want to share your stories with others.

Timothy Caulfield’s Debunking Tools

  1. Provide the science about the issue you’re addressing.
  2. Use clear and shareable content. For example, what will that content look like on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram?
  3. Use trustworthy and independent sources of science.
  4. Provide the scientific consensus on the topic, also noting science is a process and scientific consensus is going to evolve.
  5. Be nice, authentic, empathetic and humble. You’ll be viewed as more credible if this is your approach. To be authentic, don’t just concentrate on data, talk about your life and how the topic is relevant to your work on the farm.
  6. To push misinformation, people use narratives and anecdotes. Misinformation is often embedded in a narrative or anecdote. Use the same kinds of stories, narratives or anecdotes to push good science — and creativity wins.
  7. Highlight gaps in logic and rhetorical tricks.
  8. Make the fact what people remember (and not the misinformation).
  9. Remember the general public is the audience, not the hardcore deniers.

I realize many of you are very modest about the work you do; however, non-farmers are truly interested in and engaged with agriculture and how food is produced right now due to the pandemic. What an enormous opportunity this presents to share your good news stories about the food you grow for your fellow Canadians.

Do you have a story to tell? Will you join the debunk army? Email me at [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you.

Stay well,

Kari

About the author

Editor

Kari Belanger

Kari Belanger has been a writer and editor since graduating from the University of Calgary with a B.Sc. in Biology and a BA in English Literature in 1996. For more than twenty years, she has worked in many different industries and media, including newspapers and trade publications. For the past decade she has worked exclusively in the agriculture industry, leading a number of publications as editor. Kari has a particular passion for grower-focused publications and a deep respect for Canadian farmers and the work they do. Her keen interest in agronomy and love of writing have led to her long-term commitment to support, strengthen and participate in the industry.

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