Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Powerful Potential of Anti-GMO Cyber-Citizens!

Sometime last night,
with the cold November winds blowing amuck outside his window,
and the naked trees scratching menacing songs on the rooftop,
a man stumbled upon something that warmed his heart.

It was, of all things, a Thanksgiving Survey on Smucker's Facebook page.

The survey asked consumers to vote on their favourite Thanksgiving food. The top choices were (in order of preference): turkey, stuffing, potatoes, ham, and pumpkin pie.

Now, as many of you know, these surveys are designed so that people can participate and add items to the list. The man softly grinned and tapped the words "Non GMO food" into the survey.

Then he voted for it.

Word got around because somebody posted it on a consumer advocacy group's Facebook Page and that group, in turn, posted to someone else.

It went viral.

Many people ended up voting. I surely did.

By the time I had gone to sleep, "Non GMO food" had received twice as many votes as the next highest on the list. When I woke up this morning, I saw that it had received 5 times as many. For those stats hounds out there, here's the current score:

Non-GMO Food 259
Turkey 64
Stuffing 46
Ham 19 (... how ham got ANY votes is beyond me!)
Pumpkin Pie 16

(editor's note: The questionnaire has now been removed)

While people voted, they also voiced their concerns about Smucker's GMO policy on their Facebook page. Dozens of comments filled the page and I am happy to report that no one was tempted by the obvious cheap-shots that Smucker's has heard a million times. There were no "Sucker's" or "Schmucker's" flung about at all!

By and large, people were civil, which is the most effective way to be in situations like this.

(What is Smucker's GMO policy by the way? It is basically this: we will use genetically engineered ingredients and we will pay a lot of money to confuse you into believing that labeling is a bad idea if you ever think to try and push the government for your right to know what is in your food.)

This quick, simple action demonstrates the new power that citizens have in the age of the internet.

It is a wonderful example of "swarm intelligence".

Like bees and ants, concerned citizens who use Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social networking, work in a distributed and de-centralized intelligence that has a power that we are only just beginning to recognize. Through the connections and relations it provides, the system is capable of doing things that any individual one of us is impotent to achieve.

As many of the bigger NGOs lumber about, held back by their own weight and bureaucracy, people networking over computers are spontaneously and dexterously birthing new and exciting actions daily. We still need those NGOs for some functions but there are some things that we can do better than they can.

We are crafters of a Beautiful New World Order and posting, sharing, liking, tweeting, recommending, and commenting are among our most important work tools.

My sense is that if we organized ourselves a little bit, we could increase our effectiveness severalfold.

There are over a hundred anti-GMO groups in North America. Many of these groups are performing redundant activities, posting and reposting the same soundbites and visuals. Of course, swarm intelligence requires some redundancy.

But we could divide our labour in an organized way and increase our impact immeasurably.


Well, we could have a few groups whose specific job is to scour Facebook Pages looking for opportunities for us to act. Along with the Smucker's vote, there are probably hundreds of other important resources for us within Facebook.

But we don't have to stay within the navy blue halls of Facebook either: we could have a few groups that scan the major news networks for food issues related to GMOs and organics. Many of these news agencies provide "comment" sections that are beckoning our delightful responses!

We could have a few groups foraging in the "women's magazines" and a few others in the "men's" ones (I know, I hate the gender division here too).

We could have another group surveying the online science magazines.

And, of course, we'd need some other groups to scope out the smaller newspaper websites too.

And then there's the blogs!

Each time a group finds a relevant article, they would leave their comments, copy the link, and send it off through our networks.

Upon receiving these ACTION ALERTS, we would simply click on the link, read the article or post, voice our comments and go about our day feeling slightly happier. We have contributed a little to a new and powerful form of participatory democracy. That always feels good.

When the Smucker's staff open their Facebook account today, their socks are going to fall off.

Can you imagine if we left as few stones as possible unturned, if virtually every North American media resource was well represented with our messages, if customers ignorant of the issue were continually exposed to our polite and informed, yet firm and resolved voices?

I don't want to lead you into any fantasy utopia. But we can certainly get closer to achieving this by organizing a little and dividing our labor.

So let's start! What is your group going to focus on?


  1. Wonderful article. But I think you're going about it in a much less productive way than WE could, and that would be from our city council.

    See this thread post. I assume you're in our group?

  2. Hi SP Media. Let's do both!

    Bombarding one company creates a spike. Companies are much more fearful of gradual increases in concern because they assess trends over time. If we get 5000 flash mobbing one company, then it is pretty much impossible to sustain the next week.

    Please see: on just this issue!!

  3. Just read a really plausible novel called The Prophesy Gene. The main characters uncover many unintended genetic mutations as a result of the 1980s Aral Sea environmental disaster in Central asia and the accidental release of a genetically modified strain of anthrax. The author makes a pretty scary claim that mankind is stifling its own evolution by premeditated and accidental genetic engineering and mutations because we can't possibly understand all of the consequences to ecosystems and dormant genetic sites and the food chain when we monkey with this stuff. For example, some people eat oxen that have grazed on mutated vegetation and their digestive systems irreparably stop working. Or some dangerous fungus that humans eradicate because it causes disease but they don't realize that it also sequesters carbon dioxide and could reverse global warming. But I think the best one is that if it wasn't for scientist's genetic meddling humans might one day evolve senses that bats and sharks have like hunting by their internal sonar or the ability that butterflies and some birds have to navigate by the earth's magnetic field. The book is by Stuart Schooler. His website is and there is a link to a blog and a YouTube video: