Pre-emption strategies to block taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages: A framing analysis of Facebook advertising in support of Washington state initiative-1634

Zenone M, Kenworthy N.
Academic Journal
Global Public Health
September 2021

In 2018, the sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) industry introduced a ballot measure (I-1634) in Washington State of the United States to prevent further local taxes on groceries. The measure, which passed, is emblematic of new pre-emptive legislative strategies by the SSB industry to block soda taxes and conceal those strategies under the guise of preventing burdensome ‘grocery taxes’. This paper uses qualitative framing analysis to examine a public archive of 1218 Facebook advertisements to understand how I-1634 proponents shaped public discourse and engaged in misinformation efforts online during the lead up to the passage of I-1634. Coding strategies identified 7 compelling and inter-related framing strategies used by the campaign. These included strategies that misinformed the public about the threat of grocery taxation and the economic impacts it would have on the region. Strategies to conceal the true intent of the ballot measure and the sponsors of the campaign were aided by Facebook’s advertising platform, which does not moderate misinformation in advertising and allows advertisers to conceal their sponsors. We urge public health researchers and advocates to pay more attention to how Facebook and other social media platforms can be used by industries to target voters, misinform publics, and misconstrue industry support.