The Oxford Dictionaries' word of the year for 2016 was “post-truth.” Macquarie Dictionary chose “fake news.” Merriam-Webster went with “surreal,” a perhaps more polite version of the American Dialect Society’s “dumpster fire.” All of them acknowledge that it has become clear that it’s hard to know which sources to trust these days — and informational sites about the use and misuse of cannabis are no exception.
Even as cannabis use has become more mainstream, both here in the U.S. and overseas, there is plenty of propaganda making the rounds disguised under a veneer of heavily manipulated scientific claims and self-diagnosed community concern. To be clear, there are plenty of invalid claims coming from both pro and anti-marijuana publications and none of them are doing the industry any favors. If recreational marijuana is going to continue to thrive, it will need facts and good reporting.
With that in mind, we will be producing a series on how to gauge the validity of marijuana news articles as well as tips on the telltale signs that an article might have an agenda other than to inform.
#1: Don’t Trust the Headlines
As flashy and provocative as a headline may be, it’s never the whole story. This is as true for the New York Times as it is for the Onion — the point of the headline is to get you to click on it, not to provide any of the context or nuance found in the article itself.
As an example, we’ve pulled some headlines from KnowMJ.org, a Nevada-based information portal that presents itself as unbiased. To their credit, the articles they showcase are by and large from reputable external sources, and the scientific studies they cite have been published in reputable journals. However, a deeper dive into their content reveals something else entirely. For example:
Marijuana Grows Leaving More Colorado Homes Filled With Mold is gloomy and a potent warning about growing cannabis in your home. However, the article specifically calls out inexperienced and careless growers, while also stating that small-scale operations were “unlikely to have serious problems.”
Furthermore, the article goes on list the damage that illegal growers are causing. While these are valid concerns, the headline can easily be classified as sensationalistic and misleading, since the original article in the Denver Post did not spend much time focusing on legal growing operations.
Pot-Laced Goodies Can Poison a Child is a shocking and terrifying headline, calling up the worst fears of every parent. But the article is really a gentle reminder that parents should take precautions to secure cannabis-infused food, since children can’t know the difference between treats they can eat and edibles they shouldn’t. Even more importantly, the use of the word “poison” is about as misleading as you can get, as there is not one reported incident of someone dying from an overdose of THC.
Copywriters and journalists know the power of headlines. In fact, a 2016 study found that 59% of all links shared on social media have never been clicked on. We live in a world of first impressions, a world where most opinions are formed on the headlines of articles and the marijuana industry is no exception.
So, do your due diligence, look beyond the headline and form your own opinion.
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