Restrictions on travel and large gatherings are impacting pretty much everyone – including animal rights activist organizations. With no large-scale events to disrupt and in-person protests off of the table, many activist groups are turning their focus online and relying more on social media to spread their messaging and target the animal agriculture community.
As an example, extreme activist group Direct Action Everywhere has an ongoing social media campaign using #CancelAnimalAg that attempts to tie the current outbreak to animal agriculture and insist that farming is one more thing that needs to be canceled to protect public health (despite the inaccuracy of those claims). Other activists are locking themselves in dog crates and livestreaming using #CoronavirusConfinementChallenge, playing into how some people feel trapped in their homes right now and trying to connect that to livestock in confinement.
While stay-at-home orders are starting to be lifted, it seems like gatherings are not happening anytime soon, so this uptick in online activism is here to stay. In addition to the campaigns above, some groups and individuals are also choosing to attack social media pages of farmers and agricultural businesses or organizations. These attacks may include negative reviews, a coordinated flood of comments on posts going back months, “checking in” to locations on Facebook, threatening private messages, or suspicious requests for information. Activists will harass pages by posting graphic images, links to “undercover” video campaigns, or just nasty language. Their goal is to silence anyone speaking positively about animal agriculture online so they can own the space and fill it with falsehoods.
While being attacked online can be overwhelming and intimidating, I have some advice to help you be prepared.
- Develop a comment policy and post it on your social channels. Outline what type of comments are encouraged versus what you find unacceptable (inappropriate language, threats, off-topic posts, and so forth). Delete any comments that violate your policy. Your online space belongs to you and you should feel empowered to make it positive and productive. Make sure you apply this policy equally to fellow farmers who may get a little too heated in online discussions.
- Set up filters that block certain words from being posted on your page. Some page managers also suggest restricting who can post on your page based on location, as some vicious attacks can come from activists in other countries.
- Designate back up moderators. Have a friend or family member set up as a moderator on your page so they can quickly jump in and help you deal with a crisis.
- If you are attacked, block/ban harassers and report them to the social media platform. Consider deactivating your page or going private for a few days to let things cool down (or you can deactivate certain features such as reviews on Facebook or comments on Instagram).
- Don’t get caught up in arguments with activists or attempts to engage with them – they are not your consumers. They want a fight, not facts or information. Dairy Management Inc.’s Don Schindler has a great flowchart for handling comments online.
I hope these tips help you feel more prepared for handling a social media firestorm. We need all of the online voices engaging positively about animal agriculture that we can get, and we can’t let concerns about the extremely small (but very loud and aggressive) minority that don’t support what we do stop us. Contact the Animal Ag Alliance any time for additional recommendations and support.
The author is communications director for Animal Agriculture Alliance.