‘Bad stuff is just easier to believe’: Why GMO disinformation captures consumer attention

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A couple of years ago, a former company data scientist and I tapped into our common fascination with social networks …. Two years later, our paper The Monetization of Disinformation in the Attention Economy: the case of GMOs …. was published in a special issue of the European Management Journal on “Exploring the Dark Side of Social Media”.

[Editor’s note: Cami Ryan is the Social Sciences Lead at Bayer CropScience.]

At some level, we all know that the sensational nature of disinformation captures the attention of people. It’s called negativity bias:

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The bad stuff is just easier to believe. You ever notice that?” – Vivian, Pretty Woman (1990)

 Through this study, we wanted to better grasp this phenomenon by analyzing data on the topic of GMOs. We gathered a data set of 94,993 unique online articles (from 2009-2019) to explore the various tactics that contribute to the evolving GMO narrative.

Related article:  Impossible Foods rebuffs activist Vandana Shiva's 'illogical, ironic' plant-based GMO burger boycott

While our paper received quite a bit of attention in social and mainstream media …. (see: Genetic Literacy Project, American Council on Science and Health, and ChiliBio), we were really surprised that this particular outcome of the study wasn’t given more attention:

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The ongoing promulgation of disinformation – which inappropriately raises the risk profile of very good technologies, like genetic engineering – distorts science and policy.

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