Media of Mass Destruction: How Fake News Is Killing Italy’s Olive Trees

In 2013, the plant pathogen Xylellafastidiosa was found in Salento, Italy’s most southeastern region, famous for its centuries-old olive trees. Spread by insects, the bacterium is decimating those trees and compromising the production of olive oil, which accounts for a considerable part of the national output. Since there are no means to cure sick plants, the authorities ordered emergency measures to contain the disease, which included removing infected trees and using pesticides against insect vectors. In Salento, these measures aroused intense public opposition. Following a vilifying media campaign and under public pressure, an Italian court halted the containment measures and accused the scientists who detected Xylella as having caused the problem in the first place. The absence of a plan to contain the epidemic, the criminal charges against the scientists, and the public resistance due to inaccurate information may fuel the spread of the disease to the rest of Italy and eventually to the entire Mediterranean basin, with catastrophic economic consequences.


About Giorgia Guglielmi

Giorgia Guglielmi ( is a writer covering the life sciences, biomedicine, science policy, and the intersections of science and society. Her stories have appeared in Nature, Science, Spectrum News, and more. She is also a part-time editor and communications manager at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland. A native of Italy, before joining the MIT Giorgia obtained a Ph.D. in biology from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, where she studied how sheets of cells fold origami-style to build an embryo. Thesis: Media of Mass Destruction: How Fake News Is Killing Italy’s Olive Trees


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