ABSTRACT

Social media offers numerous advantages for personal users and organizations to communicate, socialize, and market their products. When used correctly, social media is an effective tool to communicate and to share food safety news and good practices. However, there have been reports of fake food safety news shared via social media, fueling panic and resulting in a loss of revenue. Thus, this study aimed to investigate the consumers' awareness, trust, and usage of social media in communicating food safety news in Malaysia. A questionnaire divided into five sections—(i) demographics, (ii) reaction to food safety news, (iii) consumers' awareness, (iv) social media truth and level of trust, and (v) social media uses and content creation—was created and shared online. A total of 341 questionnaires were returned of which 339 surveys were valid. This study revealed that less than one-third of the study group (27.1%) knew which of the food safety news were fake. Most respondents (67.8%) were less likely to purchase the affected foods if the foods were featured in social media as problematic, although no differences were made between true and fake news and how that would influence respondents' willingness to purchase affected foods. Overall, 62% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed about the usage of social media and its ability to prevent food poisoning cases, while more than 50% of the respondents were in total agreement that social media allow consumers to act more responsibly by sharing food safety news. Respondents tended to trust information shared by scientists (67.5%) and family members and friends (33%). Respondents would most often share the news after verifying its authenticity (46%). If respondents experienced a personal food safety issue (e.g., discovered a fly in their meal), they seldom or never took photos to post online (56.1%). It is possible that the respondents preferred to inform the food handlers and/or shop owners about the affected products rather than post the photos online. It is suggested that targeted food safety information and media literacy be provided to improve consumers' awareness and to positively influence self-verification of the food safety information before sharing. This study provides crucial insights for a range of stakeholders, particularly public authorities, food bloggers, and the public, in using social media effectively to build consumers' awareness and trust in food safety information.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Respondents were aware of recent food safety news shown in social media.

  • Less than one-third of the study group knew which of the food safety news was fake.

  • Targeted food safety information should be provided to improve consumers' awareness.

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