In my first blog I broke down the relationship farmers have with social media. Last week I expanded on this by writing about the effects social media has on farmers’ mental health. This week I want to continue with something a little charged, before ending this series with a lighter subject. Today I’m writing about activists and the war they wage against farmers through social media.
Activists can provide a lot of good for the world. They are brave people who see something they feel conflicts with their ethical code and they speak out against it. A lot of good can come from activism: environmental efforts have been made, justice has been served and animals have been saved. We need activists to keep the world ethical as we progress, but what happens when activism takes an ugly turn? When activists don’t do their homework, turn aggressive or go against the law?
Everyone wants to be heard and with social media everyone can be heard. Anyone can make a statement about the way things are and that statement might be seen by a couple friends or perhaps thousands of people. Activists use social media to get their message out there. With Hashtag Activism, anyone can get behind a cause with a simple hashtag in a tweet. It’s “slacktivism” at its finest. A person can feel like they are helping without leaving the comforts of their couch, which soothes their ethics alarm and leaves them feeling good about themselves.
The problem with slacktivism (or hashtag activism) is that it often lacks both fact checking and productivity. People often jump on a bandwagon without checking to see if information is true. PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is a major activist organization that relies on shock campaigns, fear mongering, celebrity endorsements and untruths. They use social media to put out campaigns that encourage slacktivists to donate through shock, disgust and guilt. Investigations into PETA show that they use misinformation to collect revenue. The average person isn’t going to look deeply into the facts with proper research sources. They just want to save the cute and sad faces of their animal friends. This leads to a strained relationship between consumers and the agriculture industry that activists tend to target.
On the Attack
The activists that target farmers through social media are often aggressive – essentially bullies. They believe strongly in their code of ethics. Animals should not be consumed or kept in captivity. The land should not be changed to grow more crops and there shouldn’t be any genetically modified organisms or anything added to our food.
These are all perfectly reasonable beliefs. I also dislike the idea of antibiotics in my food or poorly treated livestock. What divides us are the facts. I know that Canadian farmers are held to strict regulations that do not allow for antibiotics to end up in food or for livestock to be abused. I know this firsthand as I am held to those regulations.
With a little research, myths can be dispelled. Unfortunately, aggressive activists are often uninterested in dispelling myths. They are set in their beliefs and no amount of discussion will change them. They go on the attack, they make uncomfortable statements and threaten the wellbeing of the farmers. Tired of being called horrible names, some farmers took to social media with the truth about what they do.
Caught In Between
Consumers sit on either side of the battlefield. Activists make them wary and suspicious and they start asking important questions. These questions are fair to ask. We should all know where our food comes from. For a long time, activists were the only voices on social media and a gap began to form between farmers and consumers. Now, with farmers joining consumers and activists in the conversation, we get a better, more complete picture. Farmers have nothing to hide and they are proud of the work they do. Social media gives them the opportunity to share that with consumers and to keep both sides of the story available for the consumer to make up their own mind.
Long Story Short
Activism is not a bad thing. Without animal rights activists there would not be the animal welfare regulations that we have. Without environmental activists we may not have realized what kind of damage we were once doing to our farm land. It is important to innovate and grow and farmers are not against that. Where things seem to go wrong is when the activism turns aggressive on social media. Past President Barack Obama had this to say about social media activism: “That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far.”
Real world change comes when you make real world efforts. Bullying is all that comes from clashing ethics online. That said, some real world activists have crossed the line too. Real world activists have sometimes been breaking laws, trespassing on private property, tampering with food safety and causing the deaths of animals by accident. People need to take the time to do their research before joining a cause. They should first try to understand their opposition before going on the attack.
Without getting too personal: how do you feel about activists online? Do they inspire positive change? Or have people already made up their minds and are just fighting? Are farmers handling their interactions with their critics effectively?
Gilmore, S. (2014, November 11). The Problem with Slacktivism.
AgDaily Staff. (2018, July 9). Here’s how PETA is a nest of lies and against agriculture.
Way, M. (2019, August 9). Canadian farmers accuse vegan activists of cyberbullying.
Dieticians of Canada. (2020). Hormones and antibiotics in food production.
The Canadian Press. 2015, December 5). Ontario passes new animal welfare legislation with stiffer penalties.
Such, P. (2019. November 1). Is posting on social media a valid form of activism?
Brown, D. (2019, December 20). Animal activism meets farm protection in Ontario anti-trespassing bill.