Is BPA safe? A cultural approach to risk communication on the Web

Ana Paula Holtz de Campos de Knegt

Student thesis: Master thesis


Abstract: This thesis presents an analysis of risk communication strategies concerning Bisphenol A (BPA) on the Internet. In part I, a content analysis of websites on the first three pages of Google results for the search string “Bisphenol A” was performed. Communicators were divided as government, industry, academia or advocacy groups, and their main messages and strategies were compared, taking into account their position concerning the safety of BPA, the length of their texts and their choice to request financial support from readers. It was observed that communicators belonging to the same type of group carried the same type of message, with advocacy groups tending to write longer texts and use more illustrations, in an attempt to convince the readers about the non-safety of BPA, while government, academia and industry webpages tended to use more straightforward technical information, without any attempts to appeal to empathy or emotional identification. In Part II, one industry-related institution, one government agency and one non-profit organization which had their pages analyzed in Part I were selected for a case-study. Each one fits into a cultural personality type described by Douglas and Wildavsky, representing the Center (industry and government) or the Border (non-profit organization) groups. As there can be different understandings concerning risks, risk communicators from different personality types may disclose diverging information online. The use of social media as a means of communication by those institutions was analyzed for signs of risk amplification, taking as examples their activity on the websites Facebook, Twitter and Youtube concerning BPA. The results showed that American government and industry risk communicators are optimistic about technology, whereas advocacy groups communicate risk giving greater attention to negative events and using risk amplification mechanisms. We conclude that, consistently with other previous research on risk communication, the internet was considered an accessible channel of communication, but prone to risk amplification. This amplification was a reflex of the role each institution plays in society, with a tendency to observe polarized positions regarding BPA between the center and the border.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2015
Number of pages79