Small but Mighty: microplastics in human beings
Were you aware that half of all plastics manufactured have been produced in the last 15 years? It is not a small fact that plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues the world has seen. The production and development of plastics came just shortly after the Second World War, however in recent years, plastics have caused an extreme threat the health of the world’s wildlife and now, microplastics have been discovered in human beings for the first time.
When it comes to climate change, microplastics have become a salient issue, and unfortunately, a harsh reality the world now must face. Although microplastics have been a known issue for years, scientists have now discovered pieces inside human beings, water systems as well as drifting through the air. With greater quantities of plastic being in our environment, it is no surprise that microplastics have crept their way into human beings. Larger pieces of plastic break down over a long period of time, causing tiny fragments of plastic, giving them the name of ‘microplastics’. Research has shown the frightening evidence of the effect microplastics has on the environment, with the potential of carrying disease-causing organisms, this can act as a transmitter for diseases affecting natural environmental sources such as soil. This is commonly known as ‘chlorinated plastic’. The chemicals they release into the earth’s soil and surrounding water sources, consequently, results in wildlife consuming these harmful microplastics, thus, resulting in a potential threat to the food chain.
However, it does not stop there — scientists have discovered microplastics inside the human body. In this important case study, scientists removed tissue from 13 patients who were undergoing surgery and found microplastics deep inside the lungs of 11 of those patients.
This evidence suggests that human exposure to microplastics is now predominantly becoming unavoidable. Resulting in an increase of concern regarding the future of human health and well-being.
Representation and Visualisation
Despite their unescapable presence in the environment, the issue of representing the effect of microplastics to humans towards the wider audience has caused a scare-monger effect. This is shown by the fact that 92.8% of media articles imply that the risk of microplastics that exist, are likely to cause danger and harmful consequences of the minuscule plastics are extremely probable. Can you believe that? Not only this, with the mere presence of microplastics in fish, evidence has been found that seafood eaters are absorbing the small pieces of plastic from the fish they buy from their local supermarket. According to the exclusive research shown to Sky News, scientists have calculated that more than 99% of microplastics pass through the human body, simply from seafood they are digesting. Due to these shocking statistics, an increased amount of people have now stopped consuming seafood in hopes microplastics do not get into their systems. The perspectives of the readers who engage with the news sharing the risks of microplastics, propose the idea that they are less concerned when microplastics cause more effect of the environment than the risks on human health. Although there has been limited research within the health effects, the representation of microplastics is still relatively new, which could be a factor as to why the public are not as engaged. This factor indicates that the representation of microplastics demonstrate that scientists carefully depict how microplastics are not only affecting wildlife, but how it will and is now, affecting human beings.
Visualisation of microplastics found in media is an effective method of showing the vulnerability of wildlife. Those that engage with images and videos, perceive it as a damaging issue for the animals affected. Recently, the use of imagery to show the harmful effects of microplastics, has been valued as an effective method in drawing people’s attention. By providing direct visualisation within articles and social media, it can attract an increased amount of engagement, resulting in emotion and empathy to be provoked. When depicting an issue (such as microplastics), it is critical to include visualisation because it is an excellent tool for highlighting the issue’s importance. This is so that readers can visualise their grasp of the information being conveyed. Let’s face it, imagery of an animal tangled in plastic is never pleasing the eye, is it?
United Nations: An end to plastic pollution
On the 2nd of March 2022, the UN Member States’ Environment Ministers and other members supported a landmark resolution to stop plastic pollution. Plastic pollution will be eliminated by 2024, according to a legally enforceable agreement. Because the United Nations is one of the most well-known international organisations, it is not surprising that this resolution gained a lot of attention in internet stories. As a result, the discussion sparked by this news was crucial, as it allowed for high-level officials to finally respond. Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment, Espen Barthe Eide, gave her opinion of plastic pollution. She claimed that “plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic. With today’s resolution we are officially on track for a cure”. Furthermore, this demonstrates that the UN has demonstrated that they are assisting the world in recovering from the effects of plastic, which will clearly end any further potential threats from microplastics. Shortly after this announcement, a news article was published explaining that, while treaty negotiations will be difficult, they will continue to work toward the elimination of plastic pollution. Readers benefit from articles like this because it reinforces the idea that there will hopefully no longer be a long battle with plastic. Even though microplastics have been discovered in humans, it is a step toward ending the “plastic pollution epidemic.”
Misinformation and Disinformation
While there are numerous advantages to using mass media to share vast amounts of information as well as educational benefits, there is also the issue of misinformation and disinformation. This is critical to keep in mind when conducting media research. The media has circulated misinformation on the suspected matter that microplastics are in drinking water. This misleading information spread uncertainty and concern amongst the public. Therefore, it is especially important to used trusted online media platforms such as the UN and The Government website. Ultimately, misinformation can have a substantial consequence to society. Disinformation occurs when someone deliberately spreads false information with the intent to mislead. Spreading climate change misinformation on social media platforms is a problem that has been addressed for decades. Furthermore, readers who engage with information produced by someone who speaks about microplastics but lacks expertise in this area are vulnerable to misleading information. As a result, when misleading information about an important environmental issue spread, it can have an impact on any scientific findings and research because the misinformation has created public distrust. As a result, the media may portray a false image of information that has been misled.
With more than half of the world’s population now having an active social media account and an estimated daily time spent on social media sites of 2 and a half hours, it is no surprise that social media has a bad reputation for spreading misinformation about environmental issues. With so many users, it is easy to see why social media is a hotspot for the spread of misinformation.
The popular social media site, Twitter, gives users the freedom to make endless Tweets about quite literally anything. Twitter has received numerous amount of backlash in regard to the misinformation that has been circulated. With Microplastics creating a scare-monger effect on a wide number of people, Twitter users did not shy away from increasing this fear. This puts scientists research in danger, as with disinformation surfacing, it decreases the credibility of their finding. Scientists and science communicators, often find that their efforts go unnoticed due to the misinformation being led to other Twitter users.
Alongside Twitter, another popular social media site — Instagram, has also been under scrutiny for their misleading information. Although Instagram claim they are “committed to reducing the spread of false information”. Instead, the misinformation shown on Instagram, was actually used for the aesthetic and visual effect. This kind of misinformation decreases user engagement as they lose trust in the information being shown, due to the high chance they are being exposed to fake news regarding such a serious topic — microplastics. The scientists who are at the front line of this research are again, in a negative limelight of their credibility decreasing.
In recent years, citizen journalism has increased. Citizen journalism is carried out by people who are not professional journalists, but who produce written information that is publicly shared. This is done via blogs, web sites or social media. Unusual, but citizen journalism is just as important to the way in which information is shared, like traditional journalism. Especially for the topic of microplastics. Furthermore, citizen journalism allows for individuals to publish whatever they want, without the fear of being affected or influenced by traditional media.
To add further, citizen journalism is a great way to fill in the gaps within mainstream media. As established, it is easy for misinformation and disinformation to be shared publicly on social media, however, citizen journalism allows for freedom of speech for all individuals.
As microplastics have now been discovered in the human body, it is vital that the public receive precise scientific information that can educate them on what the effects of microplastics to human health could potentially be. Therefore, it is important to look at how science journalism is represented within the mass media. The mass media refers to the communication of various messages, this communication can be achieved via sources such as: social media, television and newspapers and news apps. This proves that mass media have the power to contribute to the public’s understanding of microplastics as an environmental issue.
With microplastics becoming more worrying amongst the public, it can sometimes cause confusion for readers to try to gauge with the information. However, scientific journalism has been known to be more influential in generating more coverage as they successfully educate the public’s understanding and knowledge. This can increase engagement with a specific journalist or scientific organisation platform. Altogether, scientific journalists, are considering the mass media to be an effective tool at conveying new and important environmental information. Not only this, by scienctific journalists having the ability to change the behaviour of becoming environmentally aware of microplastics, and how they can take action on this issue, it demonstrates just how important scientific journalism is in modern day media.
Another benefit of how microplastics have been carefully depicted within the media, is by interviews with people such as scientists and organisation leaders. By interviewing these people who are specified within the environmental, plastic pollution and microplastic field, it illustrates how important this aspect of journalism is. This is because it grasps how important it is to be aware that microplastics are now starting to potentially harm human beings. An interview conducted by World Water-Tech, with Molly Bingham, the President and CEO of ORB Media (global development issues), discussed the issue of microplastics within drinking water. This brief interview unveiled the shocking facts that microplastics may become a threat to humans. Not only was it a professional interview, but coming from a professional herself, it sets in stone how serious microplastics are, and reinforces the idea that as a society, we need to be more vigilant of these dangers.
Why is scientific journalism so important?
It is simple — without scientists releasing their latest research and evidence, we would not be aware of the harmful effect’s substances are having to not only the environment and wildlife, but to human beings as well. Academics argue the fact that scientific journalism allows for journalist to choose relevant and scientific knowledge for the wider audience to be aware of. From this, it emphasizes the importance scientists have on our education.
To finalise this blog, the most salient factor to attract and engage an audience is representation and visualisation. Without these elements, the information that has been released would not be clear enough. However, with statistics and imagery available, it enables readers to engage and understand the full impacts of microplastics. In a way, the visualisation element within scientific journalism, puts the facts into perspective that this is now a reality for all human beings worldwide. By the power of the media, scientists can communicate to a large number of people to make a change on not only their plastic consumption, but also their general health. This is because further research is actively taking place to uncover further implications of microplastics.