Impact of horse meat scandal to be analysed using social media

Impact of horse meat scandal to be analysed using social media

Cardiff University researchers are aiming to discover public perceptions of the horse meat scandal by analysing social media data, and say that the investigation can reveal how the growing complexity of international food supply chains can impact risks and concerns.

The horse meat scandal last year revealed a major breakdown in the traceability of the food supply chain with extensive media coverage revealing, not only widespread fraud, but also the complexity of the UK meat supply chain and the extent of meat imports.

The University’s Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory (COSMOS) has been awarded an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) grant under their Global Food Security Programme; a joint initiative with the Food Standards Agency (FSA). The project is in collaboration with NatCen, the University of Warwick and the University of Westminster.

Social Media apps

Dr Pete Burnap, computer scientist and expert in Risk in Distributed and Collaborative Online Networks, said: “COSMOS provides a unique opportunity to study the story arc of crises in unprecedented detail.  We have collected data from public Twitter accounts since 2012 and our database of more than three billion tweets will allow us to trace the unfolding of the horse meat scandal; pinpointing moments of escalation, de-escalation and duration.

“We can also mine the data to discover variation in levels of public sentiment and tension around the topic, as well as identify demographic characteristics of those involved and the geographic spread of the scare. This study will enhance understanding of the potential of social media analysis to both access public perceptions and how these evolve and to establish how social media analysis can be used in risk governance and engagement with the public about risks more generally.”

Dr Luke Sloan from the Cardiff School of Social Sciences, said: “We are delighted to be working on this trail-blazing project funded under the Understanding the Challenges of the UK Food System call. The research will generate new empirical findings on public perceptions of UK food supply chains, what people’s concerns are, what influences these and how they may be best managed in the future.”

You can find out more about COSMOS online, on Twitter @cosmos_project or e-mail the team at

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