Social Media’s Cult of Conscious Consumers

By Tarek Ziad, 22, New Haven, Connecticut

I can remember the elementary school showcase like it was yesterday. My local public school had booked a fancy science man to come stand on a stage and talk to us about food. Of course, we knew this wasn’t just supposed to be fun. It was to be, how you say, “edutainment.” Something with a message. It would be like the last assembly we had, where an alternate adaptation of The Three Little Pigs was performed for us. I say alternate because this version was centered on a message of water conservation, and featured a musical number for the wolf with a chorus of “don’t let the water run, when you’re having too much fun!” I wish I could explain further, but unfortunately those are the only details drilled into my psyche. The point is, we knew this food guy was gonna be something funky.

What then transpired was an entire presentation on the dangers and threat of something called “high fructose corn syrup.” You see, this was the early 2000’s, and society had just awoken to the dormant threat of “high fructose corn syrup,” the food ingredient out to kill. No one quite understood why exactly it was bad for you, but its presence dominated the zeitgeist, and every mother began preaching in favor of outlawing the devil syrup.

To this day, I can’t tell you for certain whether or not it’s really bad for you. But I’d be lying if I said the early 2000’s syrup mania didn’t leave me with a deep apprehension towards anything including it as an ingredient. Regardless of if it was accurate or not, the social media blitz against corn syrup was effective in tainting the public’s perception of it for years to follow.

Fast forward to 2020, and there’s a new social media brigade against an ingredient we consume every month. From mysterious “estrogens” in soy to parabens in hair products. One way or another, Twitter WILL find out about it. And when they do? Well, it’s over. The power of social media to “out” these destructive ingredients is without a doubt game changing, and is years beyond (literally) what was capable and used against high fructose corn syrup. Imagine if the fructose mob had peaked during our current social media era. There would have been memes, blogs, interviews, everything under the sun—and I’m sure it would have spread even faster.

But is this newfound internet power always benevolent? Well, it depends. In some cases, like with parabens, it can awaken the average consumer to the reality that many of our name brand shampoos and conditioners are drying and irritating our skin. In the case of soy, however, it can create a rampant and baseless rumor that consuming anything with high amounts of phytoestrogen will nuke male fertility rates. It’s a jack in the box: forceful and unpredictable. Once the internet catches wind of something it thinks the people need to know, it’s off to the races.

The internet has always shaped and moved culture forward. It heightens our ability to communicate with one another and allows us to easily share ideas and create a snowball effect. No one wants to feel left out of the info wave, so if it seems like they should hop on a trend, they hop on. In my experience, it’s helped a ton. I genuinely feel like I have a good grasp on what’s bad for me and what isn’t, regardless of FDA approval.

On the other hand, it frustrates me to no end when I see misinformation being passed around like spare deodorant at a sleep away camp. We often interrogate the internet’s ability to “cancel” people and whether or not that’s “okay,” but not often do we consider the same for products. Is there a way to somehow vet the process? Probably not on a wide-scale level. Can we all take it upon ourselves to maybe google something before retweeting it? Well, I’m sure if you asked the people behind Burger King’s “Impossible Whopper,” they’d be quick to agree.

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