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