As I think more about my experience of going into my daughter’s fourth grade class, I came to a realization about the need for us as well fed individuals to be responsible for the kind of information we share. I reminded them of how lucky we are and that it’s important for us to use good information regarding the issues at hand. What we share may have an impact upon others that we are not aware of. Just because we don’t see these people, it doesn’t mean we should not care about them.
We have a wealth of information available to us and because of that, we have a great responsibility to use it wisely. Why? It’s because misinformation can become very harmful and even deadly in many cases.
One example of the harm in misinformation comes from what happened to my great grandmother. She died in her 20’s because she believed that drinking vinegar was good for her. Despite it being naturally derived, she was told that it was helpful. She wasn’t well educated or given professional advice and just believed it. She died when my grandmother was a young girl.
The misinformation about the Japanese Americans being spies for the enemy without any evidence is another example of bad policy that harmed people. My uncle lost everything, from his belongings, house, and his business because of this unfounded belief. He has to live in an internment camp for sometime as a result. When it was clear that the Japanese did not pose a threat, he was released but had to start anew again.
Despite having an wealth of evidence showing that vaccines are safe, a single man and his bad study caused significant harm and death. The former Dr. Andrew Wakefield unscrupulously spread fears about vaccines causing autism and unleashed decades of vaccination refusals. People even gave bleach to their children in hopes that clearing their guts will get rid of autism. Babies have died from being exposed to preventable illnesses or suffered permanent injuries as a result of unvaccinated children. Measles has come back recently with several hundred being affected by it.
Bad advice about cancer treatments has also taken lives too. The preference for supposed natural cures have cost lives being taken away too early. Is that fair to a child to be denied treatments that could save his or her life? Do we deny them a chance at a better life or is nature the preferred course to take because one fears modern medicine?
The story of Matthew Sheppard is another one where misinformation and hateful ideology led to his death. With the media spreading allegations about homosexuality, it’s of no surprise that so many people became homophobic. Parents shunned their children for being gay. That in turn led to harsh feelings towards gay people and some going as far as killing people and even some being bullied and escaping through suicide.
While the much of the developing world is being denied the opportunities to grow better crops, the western world can keep new agricultural technologies from these farmers. We don’t hear or see how farmers from India are thriving with Bt cotton and needing less pesticides to grow it. We don’t see how much cassava is turning toxic due to plant disease. We don’t see or experience those problems so many people feel the need to express fear about a technology they do not understand.
We never see our children going blind or dying from something so preventable like vitamin A deficiency. Instead of speaking truthfully about this potential solution, the activists state things like vitamin supplements and carrots and leafy greens will be better. Duh, if it was that simple, why didn’t it happen?
It behooves me even more about the how other food providers are hit by the misinformation campaigns. So many people love their sashimi and poke but then will state that Hawaii is overfished. If that really were the situation, where’s the data to support this and why aren’t markets stopping the selling of fish? It’s because what’s being said in the media just isn’t supported with evidence. The hard working fishermen are left with a bad reputation while we still enjoy our raw fish.
The Internet has given people who have no connection to agriculture a loud voice. Just because they are loud, it doesn’t make them right in their assumptions. All of their demands have consequences that many haven’t even considered at all. Policies should always reflect the evidence available as the best source supporting it. That is how we disperse information responsibly and end unnecessary hysteria and harm people’s livelihoods.
We live in a world of plenty. Plenty information. Plenty food and clothes. Plenty of things to do. Because we are blessed with plenty things, we have to add in responsibility. Google does not give one a license to promote harmful misinformation. The social media does not give one a license to share badly research memes and links. Everything we do must be done responsibly. It’s our role as a global citizen and to each other.