FAKE news hit the beef industry in a big way today when calls to action were issued on social media, and indeed by producers contacting traditional media, against an airline for reportedly taking beef off its menu.
The only problem - no such thing had in fact occurred.
Word started filtering down through social media that Virgin was “removing ingredients deemed unsustainable such as beef and palm oil” from in-flight menus.
A trace-back showed tweets referring to an original article published on a United States vegan website making the claim about Virgin Atlantic but as the social media beast on this topic morphed and spread, Virgin Australia got tied up in the claim.
A spokesperson from Virgin Australia this afternoon told Fairfax Media the company was aware of the claims but there was not an ounce of truth to it.
“Virgin Australia has no plans whatsoever to stop serving beef,” she said.
“Beef is a key part of the Australian culture and economy and if anything we will be rounding up our offerings of local product.”
She said while Virgin Australia did not speak for Virgin Atlantic, there were indications the claim was not true in the larger company’s case either.
Fairfax Media has requests for clarification in with Virgin Atlantic.
Social media experts say it’s not uncommon for fake news to spread like wildfire on social media and agriculture is fast becoming a target.
The beef industry has a lot to learn from this one, according to the experts, because there could have been very serious repercussions to both Virgin and it’s relationship with Australian beef suppliers.
What if beef businesses had’ve launched boycotts, all based on untrue claims?
Louise Connor, director of Communications at Melbourne-based social licence specialist firm Futureye, said this case was a “closer definition of fake news than what Trump talks about.”
“It’s the nature of the wonderful world of social media that you end up with an echo chamber effect and as something progresses its way through activist networks it takes on a life of its own,” she said.
“People talking to like-minded people and geeing themselves up has gone on forever but in this environment of social media, its amplified and sped up.”
There are a couple of key take home messages, she said.
Firstly, fact check. Find out the original source of the discussion, what was actually said and then make a judgement on its credibility.
“Test the facts yourself and do it quickly and before you retweet,” Ms Connor said.
Secondly, and more generally related to social media, read widely.
“Don’t only expose yourself to what you agree with. Scan all media, social and mainstream, and make sure you are aware of all the arguments, for and against you, and the agendas that people on social media might have,” she said.
“Understand what your critics say about you. Then speak directly to them if there are myths that need to be busted.
“Not engaging is not the right strategy in a modern media world. But you want to be engaging from an informed place.”