12 I EUROPEAN SEED I EUROPEAN-SEED.COM I n September 2017, the European Seed Association (ESA) launched its new communication initiative ‘Embracing the Power of Nature’, the aim of which is to engage with a wider public interested in learning about plant breeding and latest plant breeding methods. This gave reason for European Seed to sit down with Philip Weiss, ZN CEO to find out more about the need for the Embracing Nature campaign, and how to go about it, developing such a campaign from scratch. EUROPEAN SEED (ES): PHIL, LATELY THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF DEBATE ON THE SO-CALLED PLANT BREEDING INNOVATION. WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT FOR ESA TO ENGAGE IN COMMUNICATION ON THIS TOPIC? PHILIP WEISS (PW): Plant breeding innovation is a complex topic and can easily be misunderstood. Many consumers do not even know the purpose of traditional plant breeding practices. They are not aware of the multiple challenges and risks facing the European agricultural sector and, ultimately, our own food supply. Given upcoming legislative decisions, the industry is facing a big communication challenge: There is very little time to bring decision makers up to speed and explain how plant breeding benefits multiple stakeholders and society as a whole. ES: SOME GROUPS IN SOCIETY INCREASINGLY SEEM TO BE RELUCTANT TO EMBRACE NEW INNOVATION. WHAT IS DRIVING THAT AND HOW CAN WE CHANGE THAT? PW: My personal opinion is that these trends are worrisome for society. As communication experts in the digital space, we can see growing skepticism among consumers, leading to the growth of such movements. These often reinforce people's fears and emotions about an issue rather than inviting them to under- stand the wider context and facts. Many of these movements are highly emotional and foster extreme opinions, rejecting science and fact-based discussion. With complex topics like health and our food supply system, this increasingly leads to misinformation. Too many people base their personal judgements on anecdotes and isolated stories. As a concerned citizen and parent, I feel it is important to help scientists step up, engage with a wider audience and correct these misconceptions. Only informed citizens can make informed decisions and only those who know the facts can help other citizens understand the wider context of these relatively complex issues, and challenge those who try to demonize innovation and new technologies. ES: SOCIAL MEDIA CAN BE FILLED WITH HIGHLY EMOTIONAL PEOPLE WHO SPREAD MISINFORMATION AND CULTIVATE FEAR. FROM A PSYCHOLOGICAL STANDPOINT, WHY IS IT THAT MANKIND IS SOMETIMES SO EASILY SWAYED TOWARDS SUCH DOOM-LADEN MESSAGES, DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE FACTS SAY OTHERWISE? PW: It is not human psychology but rather recent evolutions in information architecture that are to blame for this new situation. According to recent studies about the impact of fake news on the US election and elsewhere, it is clear that ‘fake news’ travels fast. Social media has created a platform that gives us unprecedented access to information on any conceivable topic, at the touch of a finger, on a device you can carry in your pocket. With this information, people don’t take the time to verify the accuracy of the information they consume. Speed and emotion overtake quality and depth every time. People are attracted to information that they agree with and social media platforms are designed to get us to spend as much time as possible on the different digital channels. The more we click, the more money they earn. The impact of this new information architecture is that we are less critical and less informed now than when our choice was more limited and more ‘controlled’ by editors and experts. However, it is wrong to think that this information platform caters only to negative messages of doom and gloom. Social net- Embracing the power of social media STRATEGIES FOR ENGAGING WITH THE WIDER PUBLIC ON PLANT BREEDING. BY: MARCEL BRUINS Philip Weiss