Getting Slimed by Social Media
Posted on May 2, 2012
Sparked by a celebrity TV chef’s outrage over the use of “pink slime” in ground beef, Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere erupted with grotesque images of the ingredient, and calls for its removal.
The images and description of it swayed me. I swore I would never buy non-organic ground beef, ever. I was disgusted by the images I saw and horrified to think ammonia was being added to my family’s food.
Emotion drives social media. Gross, outlandish content and seemingly infuriating issues spread like wildfire. There are no fact checkers on social media. The public reacts to viral content it assumes is accurate.
In this case, it wasn’t.
It turns out that LFTB– Lean Finely Textured Beef—(the technical name for “pink slime”) is 100% beef with the fat removed to make it leaner. Trace amounts of ammonium hydroxide (approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in food processing decades ago) is added to it to eliminate deadly bacteria—like E. coli.
The meat industry and food experts were blind-sided by the uproar. Not only had the FDA approved its use long ago, many food safety experts even praised it as a significant advancement in ensuring the safety of raw meat.
FDA officials, food scientists and all major consumer organizations joined the conversation on social media in support of LFTB as safe and nutritious, but they couldn’t stop the tide.
One Texas mom was so outraged by the use of LFTB that she started an online petition asking the USDA “put a stop to pink slime in school lunches.” She received more than 200,000 signatures in eight days. The USDA responded by announcing schools could opt out of serving ground beef with LFTB. Several did.
Responding to consumer demand, several supermarket chains and some fast food chains vowed never to sell beef with this ingredient again.
The largest producer of LFTB was forced to shut down operations, leaving more than 600 people without a job. Another meat processor filed for bankruptcy. And ground beef prices will likely rise as a result.
Social media empowers average citizens to bring about change. This is a powerful example of the consequences when that change is fueled by misinformation.
While getting “slimed” by social media may not be entirely unavoidable, here are some top-line lessons we can take away:
1) Social media is a quick and emotional, but not necessarily factual, media. Images and video are the best way to appeal to emotions, quickly.
2) Be prepared for anything your organization or industry does to become the ire of the social media mob. Even what seems benign and regular practice could be distorted through social media. Have a strategy in place to combat it.
3) Assess where your organization is potentially vulnerable and proactively address it.