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In the News: Staff Columns

Mistaken identity sparks social media backlash

Thursday, November 30, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jamie Mara, director of public relations
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Confusion. Then anger. Followed by hurt.

Sandy Larson’s emotions ran the gamut last month when a video surfaced showing cows being abused at a Florida dairy farm.

Her experience started when Sandy’s phone lit up with notifications showing strange comments being posted to the Facebook page of her farm, Larson Acres Dairy, in Evansville, south of Madison.

One of the comments read: “I am disgusted! … You either don’t routinely inspect your animals, don’t supervise your workers or don’t care about how you operate farms! Just know now that someone might be watching so better be sure to keep an eye on workers and livestock to ensure animals’ rights and our end products are being protected!”

Sandy was confused. “Is this my farm?” she thought.

A quick Google search answered her question. The farm where the video was recorded bears the name Larson Dairy. It was a case of mistaken identity.

Anger flared. How could these people be so careless and not do their research? “If they were so smart they would realize they had the wrong farm,” Sandy said.

The comments continued to pop up on the Facebook page — under photos and among the reviews.

Sandy didn’t immediately know what to do. Should she delete the comments? “I wondered if that would make (the commenters) more mad and create more retaliation.”

Hurt set in. Over the next couple weeks, the farm received nasty emails and even phone calls. 

“You’re the most despicable people on Earth,” one read, in part. Another, “Shame on your inhumanity!”

“The emails and phone calls were so hurtful,” Sandy said. “The more we received, the sadder I became.”

She quickly found that there was no reasoning with the commenters. “I know that those people would never listen and are not worth trying to reason with, but you sure want to.”  

Fortunately, the attention eventually dissipated, probably because the increasing number of news stories about the Florida farm pushed Larson Acres down the Google search page.

Shortly after Sandy was alerted to the Facebook comments, she called me for help. We took a deep breath and carefully assessed the activity along with DBA’s digital communications manager, Joanna Wavrunek. In the end, Sandy deleted comments and banned the posters from the page. (Unfortunately, a couple comments remain among her farm’s list of reviews.) We concluded that the relatively small number of posts and lack of sharing didn’t warrant a public response, for fear that it would only exacerbate the situation.

The Larsons’ experience is a reminder of how easily misinformation can spread in the social media age, where things move lightning fast and users often don’t take the time to consider the veracity of what they are reading and seeing.

Sandy’s advice for other farmers who find themselves sucked into a social media spiral: “Reach out for help right away.”

Joanna and I were happy to provide it.

“DBA has been very helpful,” said Sandy, a longtime member. “And knowing they are another set of eyes on my page is comforting.”

Negative comments? Here’s what you can do:  

Joanna Wavrunek, DBA’s digital communications manager, offers these tips for handling negativity on your farm Facebook page. Contact her at jwavrunek@widba.com for help.

Don’t panic. It is important to stay calm and think through your options and gauge the attention the post is receiving. If the negativity continues from the same person, you can ban them from the page.

Look over your Facebook page settings. You can choose to limit the ability of other people to post. Set your profanity filter to “strong” and update your “page moderation” so you are notified when someone writes a comment with vulgar language.

Before any issues occur, identify a support system. Connect with an ally who can help share accurate and positive information.


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