Social media is a fantastic tool for communication. Whether it’s for contacting a long-distance friend or sharing photos of a newborn family member, social media avenues make connecting as easy as snapping your fingers. Social media also makes it easier to spread ideas, messages, facts, and opinions. A perfect example of this is the translucent French flag overlay for Facebook profile pictures and this trend’s dramatic spread this week. The purpose is to show support for the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Another example is a Facebook page called Project Team Jonny for a young boy close to my hometown battling cancer. The purpose of the page is to give updates and for people to show support to the family. What’s miraculous to me is the two-year-old page has over 46,000 “likes” or people connected. The town that Jonny is from, Jerseyville, barely has a population of over 8,000, but the power of his story reaches almost six times that. Social media proves the power of an idea or a feeling is immeasurable.
Thinking about my previous examples, it’s hard to argue that using social media for purposes like those is bad. However, as I scroll through my Facebook news feed, I see the following photo.
To the average person on social media, this photo evokes a pretty strong set of emotions; anger, guilt, horror, etc. The graphic uses dark colors, and the thought-provoking idea of humans killing each other. Some people may even reevaluate their diet. With just a click, this photo can be shared to hundreds of a person’s followers and so on until the photo has reached millions of people within a day. So what’s the harm in that? After seeing this picture, a couple of questions came to mind for me: What’s the original source of this photo? Is it a graphic made by a child, a student, a mother? Where’s the source? Surely people won’t believe a statistic not properly cited for credibility. What does the author mean by “animals?” Humans are technically animals so is that factored into this statistic? Is this exclusive to strictly non-human animals used for food production or does it include euthanized animals, hunted animals, and animals accidentally killed by cars/other methods? Did the author consider the health benefits/harms of a meat-free diet?
Later in the course of my Facebook surfing a found a second graphic.
This second picture conveys a completely different message. It conveys a normal looking broiler chicken and it presents a message in a normal, non-threatening or emotion-evoking manner. A source is provided along with a logo for an association so that consumers can direct their questions to the source. The information itself is linked to the Oxford Journals, which are a reputable source with peer-reviewed articles.
Sadly, more often than not, during my Facebook surfing I see examples of the first graphic. On a daily basis, negative opinions of agriculture spread like wildfire through the avenue of social media. Non-credible statistics and unreliable information are shared and spread until they reach millions of people susceptible to believing this information. So, in the grand scheme of things, is social media beneficial to the agriculture industry? Or even news as a whole? With this being said, it is crucial to have skepticism and critical thinking when looking at things shared on the Internet. Positive communication is key in our industry to educate the consumers on our practices and the reasons why we use those practices.