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Knowing When To Shut Up


I have been to several seminars on how to use social media. Most of them have stressed how important it is for farmers and those of us in agriculture to have a social media account and to share about agriculture as much as we can.  We need a loud voice for agriculture to counter the environmental and animal rights wackos that fill social media channels with lies and science fiction.

But, this past week, I heard a presentation that took a different approach — one that to me makes a lot of sense.

Leah Beyer, digital communications Manager with Elanco Animal Health presented a program called “Knowing When To Shut Up.”  Her presentation demonstrated that sometimes in our effort to make our agricultural voice heard we do more harm than good.

For example, when some fast food firm announces it is going GMO free, we respond with condemnation and threats of boycotts.  When PETA puts out an undercover video, we go crazy and share it all over the place saying how this is not what farms are like. Yet, by doing this, we are playing into the hands of the nutcases by helping to spread their message and giving credibility to their claims.

Beyer says sometimes it is better to say nothing. Or, if you are going to say something, don’t argue the point just simply stress the positive aspects of agriculture and food production. She stressed keeping an issue in perspective. Just because we in agriculture are upset by something, it does not mean the public is even paying attention.  Dozens of ag bloggers might be reacting to something the “food babe” says does not mean it is being seen by those outside of farming or activist communities.

She used the example of how on the same day PETA released an undercover video about a hog farm, a child fell into the gorilla pen at a zoo in Ohio and the gorilla was shot dead. Social media was filled for days and weeks with outrage over the gorilla, while the PETA video went unnoticed.

Beyer also cautioned about the use of the share button. If you share something, even if you say bad things about it, you are still helping to increase the number of people who see the original message who otherwise may not see it at all. She also discouraged passing along links to fake news. When these links get shared, it increases their popularity with search engines like Google.  This ranks them higher in searches and gives them the appearance of legitimacy, and they are then more likely to get picked up by real news organizations. She recommends you copy the text, but don’t share the hyperlink.

Social media is great tool for helping to educate the public about agriculture, but perhaps we need to be a bit more strategic in how we use it. Over 60% of Americans have a Facebook page, so posting positive thoughts, comments, or stories about agriculture, food production, or farm life is a good idea. However, we need to learn the art of keeping our digital mouths shut at the right time.

By Gary Truitt


By Gary Truitt