Many years ago I stopped listening to talk radio, those channels that invite people to call in by the dozens and express their opinions on some topic or another. I didn’t stop listening because I don’t want to hear other opinions on important things. It’s just that I’d rather hear informed opinions, and there are much better places to find them. That’s my opinion, at least.
The trouble with opinions is everybody has one, but too many people don’t seem to take the time to get all—or even at least a few—of the facts before forming one. To me, there aren’t many things more irritating than listening to people express views based on wrong assumptions or a naive analysis.
This past week while covering the Manitoba Ag Days show in Brandon I was reminded of that. I ended up reading an avalanche of silliness from people who clearly haven’t been to an ag show or close to a farm to understand what really goes on.
While working in the media room at the show, I happened to ask what hash tag we were using to post tweets from the show. I was told it might be best to abandon the official one, because some animal rights group has descended on it posting pictures designed to further their own agenda, which seems to be to make life miserable for livestock producers—or maybe just farmers in general.
A quick scan of the posts associated with that hash tag had all sort of pictures of dead calves and other disgusting images that suggested farmers were a bunch of sadists. Having been a cattle producer for a couple of decades, I’ve seen my share of dead calves, and it’s never a pretty sight. What’s more, to responsible farmers it’s actually a pretty heart wrenching sight. Yes, we raise cows for profit, but there aren’t many who do it and don’t actually love animals very much.
There are some individuals, you could argue, who don’t treat their animals very well. We’ve all seen them. So should anyone who wants to improve the standard of care for animals simply bash the industry and expect to achieve any real change, or should they lobby for strong enforcement of abuse cases?
The question is, what amounts to abuse? From what I’ve seen of animal activist groups, there isn’t even agreement among them on that. Some believe any use of animals for profits is unacceptable. Others, like some SPCA groups are much more moderate and may even have useful input for agriculture. Even though activists aren’t a homogenous group, many of them see farmers that way and take aim at the entire ag industry.
Today’s world seems to be one where the ends justify the means. We see it with terrorist groups targeting peaceful civilians to pursue a political end. You could argue these animal rights groups are doing the same by targeting everyone in agriculture to pursue their goals, some of which are as absurd as those of any kind of extremist group.
The current state of technology makes it much easier for flakes to get their messages out, like hijacking a farm show Twitter hash tag. Social media is a powerful tool.
Credible mainstream media, like newspapers and television news, are becoming increasingly consolidated these days, and surveys suggest people are increasingly turning to social media as prime information sources. That’s not good.
This change in how the message gets out means the message itself is changing, and not for the better. The risks of having a large segment of society informed by special interest groups chasing their goals poses an extreme danger the very concept of a democracy. Democracies only work where people are reasonably well aware of the facts and can make informed voting decisions.
Anyone can post a tweet with a directed message—true or otherwise—aimed at influencing opinion. But ethical reporters writing for legitimate media have to prove their statements. That’s why there is no substitute for mainstream media, certainly not the hijacked social media platforms we’re all increasingly subjected to.