The exploration of social media messaging and the consequential impact it has on the public is fascinating. If there are truly media gatekeepers that influence the public in both positive and detrimental ways, one can only imagine what is not being told. We err on the side of research and furthering knowledge to bridge any gaps in the news being relayed to us each day.
For this reason, we dived into the topic of food deserts and how certain promotional social media aspects can contribute to this plight. First, let’s break down what a food desert is and its causes.
Food desert – An area that is vapid of quality produce (fruits, vegetables, etc.) usually found in poverty-stricken areas of the country.
How can social media content contribute to food deserts? Here's how:
1. Glorification and advertisement of a specific type of food (often unhealthy) to certain geographic areas, based on socioeconomic factors
If you’re a business owner and created a Facebook promotional ad in the past, you’ve noticed that you can create a target audience based upon location, interests, gender or age. Hypothetically, if someone was striving to sell a brand of fried chicken to a specific group, they could easily target their location and do so. From the results of the promotion, they could also in theory, analyze where most of their chicken-selling success is stemming from, only to go build more fried chicken places in areas that are typically undervalued - flooding areas with food that may eventually lead to their deaths.
2. Leaders in the grocery business owners making store locality decisions based off pessimistic chatter in social media
A few weeks ago, we attended a local community forum where food deserts and a lack of grocery stores in a certain community was discussed heavily. The mayor attributed this issue to poor education and an inability to attract economic developers and healthy food businesses to the area. He explained that because the school system in the area is lacking, it keeps a diverse population from re-locating to the community and without community growth, businesses find nothing appealing about the area. These facts may be lined in truth, but social media can also be a key driver of enticing quality businesses to your area or repelling them.
When typing the word “Birmingham” into the search bar of Facebook or Twitter, what are the first posts that arise? Are they about a growing community that takes pride in their area and lauds over their great food truck rallies, low cost of living, community events or notable national rankings that the city has acquired over the past few years? Or is the social media feed plagued with conversations of crime, health epidemics and political squabbles? Economic developers can recruit and ascertain as many business leader visits from all across the country as they would like, but if a CEO uses community discussions found publicly on FB as a key indicator of behavior, business safety and growth opportunities, grocery stores such as Kroger or Whole Foods will never come. This contributes to food deserts.
3. Less demand for health food creators due to social media marketing
From a young age, food that is directly detrimental to our health is touted through social media; thus lessening the desire and demand for health food producers. In short, there are no limitations to how the use of social media can impact your mentality regarding food for years to come.