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Be positive but stay vigilant after Fair Oaks Farms incidentBe positive but stay vigilant after Fair Oaks Farms incident

Farmers should be familiar with best practices for engaging on social media.

Chris Torres

June 12, 2019

5 Min Read
Two calves occupy a hutch
ANIMAL EMOTIONS: The issue of animal welfare is an emotional one, but the recent incident at Fair Oaks Farms is also a reminder of how farmers should deal with these kinds of situations on social media.Annimei/Getty Images

I watched the video posted on the farm in Indiana that was posted by Animal Recovery Mission, or ARM.

It was a horrible video. The animals were treated terribly and, even worse, the employees looked like they didn’t have one care in the world.

The timing of the video couldn’t have been worse. Dairy farmers everywhere are struggling to survive and, in case you have forgotten, June is Dairy Month. Great timing by ARM to stick it to dairy farmers when they’re down and almost out for the count even though the footage was allegedly shot months ago.

Why on Earth would you wait to release the video in the first place? You would think an organization like ARM —  touting itself as an organization that strives “to be the defending force for destitute animals and to make significant improvements in how they are treated by exposing the truth, implementing laws to protect and educating the public on these illegal and barbaric practices” —  would be a little more forthcoming to save these animals rather than allowing the abuse to occur.

As far as Mike McCloskey and Fair Oaks Farms, I wonder how this going to affect their operation. I’m glad that McCloskey took full responsibility for what happened and has vowed to put better practices in place to make sure it never happens again, but he’s getting absolutely roasted on Facebook.

I don’t care what anyone says; a 30,000-cow dairy is a difficult operation to manage, even if you have the best intentions and feel like you have the best controls in place to hire the best people. Something is bound to happen at some point or another.

Regardless, it’s time to move on. And I think the best way animal agriculture can move on is by being positive and vigilant, especially on social media.

Facebook lit up right after the video of what happened at Fair Oaks Farms was posted. There was anger from all sides: Consumers were angry at Fair Oaks, farmers were angry at ARM.

It was good to see people in the ag community come out in defense of farmers who truly do care about their animals and are trying to do the right thing.

But please, be mindful with whom you are talking to, especially if you’re trying to “debunk” something or want to present the other side.

Watch what you say and where you post it

I emailed Hannah Thompson-Weeman, vice president of communications for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, for some advice on how to handle social media posts when things like this happen. First off, it’s good to know how Facebook works in the first place, and Thompson-Weeman provides some really good tips to remember:

“Our first piece of advice when dealing with any type of negative online content about agriculture is to avoid interacting with the negative post itself (sharing, commenting, reacting),” she says. “Every time you ‘share’ any post on Facebook, even if your intention is to debunk it or get perspectives from others, you are helping activist groups get eyes on their content. The more interactions a post gets, the more engaging it is and the more likely it is to show up in people’s News Feeds. Facebook doesn’t know that you’re only reacting to that post because it made you angry; a share is a share regardless.

“If you want to send a post to a Facebook friend or a group to get advice for potentially responding, screenshot it! You can pass along all of the same information without helping them get more eyes on their lies.

“I understand wanting to shed accurate light on whatever industry practice is being disparaged and absolutely encourage you to do so. If that is your goal, I suggest posting positive information on your own page without even mentioning whatever rumor activist groups are trying to spread. You don’t need to give this ‘undercover video’ more airtime in order to post a video of you feeding your calves and explaining your commitment to calf care.

“If you feel you need to acknowledge why you’re sharing a post, you can simply mention you’re seeing a lot of misinformation about something and want to correct it.”

Here is what Emmy Dallam of Bel Air, Md., posted on her Facebook site on Friday:

This was posted by Will-O-Crest Farm in Clifton Springs, N.Y., the day the video was released:

Katie Dotterer-Pyle, who co-owns Cow Comfort Inn Dairy in Maryland, was in New York City for a live segment of Good Morning America when she found out about the video’s release. She says a representative from Dairy Management Inc. came to the city to prep her on how to respond to any potential questions about the incident. Luckily, it didn’t come up.

Regardless, Dotterer-Pyle has become well-known for using social media to present a positive image of dairy farming. I asked her for some advice on using social media to promote the farm:

“DO IT!” she wrote in an email. “Don't wait. If you're not willing to tell your story, someone else most definitely will. Social media is where you will reach the most people. It's where our customers are, and each social platform has different audiences. Engage with your communities, let people know you exist and why you do what you do. A personal connection goes pretty far.”

Let’s face it, emotions get to people. That’s why groups such as ARM and the Humane Society of the United States use tactics like undercover video. They know that shocking people will get their attention, even if they distort the facts or unjustly blame an entire industry over one bad apple. It’s the image that will stay in people’s minds.

Most farmers I know take great care of their animals and wouldn’t tolerate a situation like this. But if you see something wrong on the farm, fix it. Don’t let it linger or wait for someone else to fix it. Remember, everyone has a phone these days and can post something on social media within a matter of minutes. And once it’s on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, it never goes away.

About the Author(s)

Chris Torres

Editor, American Agriculturist

Chris Torres, editor of American Agriculturist, previously worked at Lancaster Farming, where he started in 2006 as a staff writer and later became regional editor. Torres is a seven-time winner of the Keystone Press Awards, handed out by the Pennsylvania Press Association, and he is a Pennsylvania State University graduate.

Torres says he wants American Agriculturist to be farmers' "go-to product, continuing the legacy and high standard (former American Agriculturist editor) John Vogel has set." Torres succeeds Vogel, who retired after 47 years with Farm Progress and its related publications.

"The news business is a challenging job," Torres says. "It makes you think outside your small box, and you have to formulate what the reader wants to see from the overall product. It's rewarding to see a nice product in the end."

Torres' family is based in Lebanon County, Pa. His wife grew up on a small farm in Berks County, Pa., where they raised corn, soybeans, feeder cattle and more. Torres and his wife are parents to three young boys.

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