Social Media Responses to GMO and Probiotics – A Chronological and Cross-Cultural Analysis

Santosh Vijaykumar, Claudia Pagliari

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Technological advances in the food industry during the 21st century have been accompanied by the rise of social media as a channel of communication and influence. This has led to new challenges for a sector in which the successful translation of innovations is highly dependent on public attitudes. Such attitudes are also shaped by the socio-political context in which science takes place.
To investigate these co-dependencies, we set out to chronicle the evolution of consumer sentiments on social media in relation to two contrasting food innovations - Genetically Modified Crops (GMC) and Probiotics. While both derive from advances in biotechnology, public responses to them have been markedly different. On an objective basis, the scientific arguments in support of GMCs, both in terms of safety and global sustainability, are robust and evidence-based, whilst for probiotics neither the nutritional or safety case have been proven. Despite these differences, GMC products have attracted considerable negativity in the media, while the narrative surrounding Probiotics has been overwhelmingly positive. This paradox is illustrated in market performance, with sales of products labelled “non-GMO” having spiralled from $12.9 billion (2012) to $21.1 billion (2016) and the global retail market in probiotics swelling from almost zero to $40 billion as of 2016. Public attitudes to science are also influenced by cultural and geopolitical factors, which warrant exploration.
Drawing on theories of communication and public trust in science, we will analyse GMC- and Probiotic- related narratives on four types of social media over the past 8 years (Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Food Blogs) to seek answers to the following questions:
RQ1) How have consumer sentiments and emotions associated with GMC and probiotics shifted over the past decade? RQ2) which key actors or events have markedly influenced the direction of social media sentiment? RQ3) Which are the key demographic and interest groups engaged in relevant social media conversations? RQ 3) In what ways do these patterns differ in the USA, Asia, and across Europe?
The findings of this study will be used to inform the public engagement strategies around food policy, marketing and consumer safety.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sept 2018
EventEuropean Food Safety Agency Conference 2018: Science, Food, Society - Parma, Italy, Parma, Italy
Duration: 18 Sept 201821 Sept 2018


ConferenceEuropean Food Safety Agency Conference 2018
Abbreviated titleEFSA18
Internet address

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Social Media
  • Food Safety
  • Public Understanding of Science


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