Dr. Becky Freeman is an early career research fellow at the School of Public Health, University of Sydney. Her primary research interests include tobacco control, obesity prevention, and how online and social media influence public health.
In this op-ed for the Public Library of Sciences titled “Sweet tweets: How Big Soda uses Social Media to Dilute Critiques,” she focuses on how the soda industry relied on one of the many front groups it funds — in this case, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) — to respond to recent critiques.
- “I recently had a surprising promoted Tweet appear in my Twitter newsfeed. A promoted Tweet means the Twitter account holder paid to have it appear in the Twitter news feed of other, targeted users. Normally, I ignore promoted Tweets, but this one caught my eye as it was critiquing a book that had just been released that very day, Prof Marion Nestle’s, Soda Politics.”
- “I then clicked through to the article that was linked in the promoted Tweet. This took me to an article critiquing Nestle’s book on the Food Insight website, which is a creation of the International Food Information Council [IFIC]. The article essentially argues that soda is part of a healthy diet, has been wrongly demonised, and that Nestle interprets research incorrectly.”
- “I next looked to see how the IFICF website was funded and it came as no surprise to see that many familiar companies are supporting the site, including soda manufacturers Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Red Bull.”
- “No doubt the IFICF was hoping many people would be reached and perhaps opinions be shaped prior to actually reading Nestle’s book.”
- “Many questions remain however: why did this promoted Tweet appear in my newsfeed? Were all of Marion Nestle’s followers targeted? Was it because my own Twitter profile includes an interest in junk food advertising? Is it because I also follow other junk food and drink brands for monitoring purposes? Using social media to counter powerful public health messages is a new twist on this old practice. As soda regulations gain global momentum, I suspect this is only a first taste.”