How fake news in the media impacts agriculture

According to Delta Farm Press, most citizens today are three generations removed from the farm. One result of this, is that fake news and misinformation will be taken as the truth and can harm the agriculture industry. One company that exemplifies these tactics is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Through undercover videos taken at various farms, PETA uses the emotional response from these videos to press their anti-animal agriculture agenda onto the public. Social media against animal agriculture is often sponsored by or shared by PETA or one of their affiliates. Research is clear that animal abuse in the agriculture industry does not occur, yet people are still quick to believe that it does. PETA’s Facebook page has 5.3 million followers, and post videos or photos nearly every day.

Compare that for example to the United States Department of Agriculture’s page that has 323,159 likes. The USDA shares relevant educational information regarding the agriculture industry, however fake news often has more appeal with scandalous images and revelations, and the true educational sources often fall by the wayside. Because of this I decided to dig deeper into one of the pressing issues facing agriculture today.
One of the organizations on the fore front of this fake news frenzy is PETA. They not only share videos and posts that prey on mis-information on their social media platforms, PETA has been known for their poster ads featuring celebrity endorsements. Some of their campaigns such as “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” portrayed naked celebrities and opposed fur farms. However, the message PETA sends with these advertisements are lost in the taboo nature of what else is in the photo. On their social media profile, they share “undercover” farm horrors such as dairy cattle laying in the mud, chickens being spun around by workers, and ranchers branding their cattle. The truth is that there are bad producers out there, and PETA presents their videos as the rule not the exception when it comes to animal agriculture.


By spreading this propaganda online to uninformed individuals, it is extremely easy for their company to harm the agriculture industry. Their hatred of the animal agriculture industry is easy to see, and they encourage their followers to “liberate” animals whenever they can. Such an instance occurred earlier this year, where an animal liberation group broke into a mink farm in Minnesota and released 30 – 40,000 minks into the wild. This was a $750,000 loss for the mink rancher, and nearly all of the mink that were not able to be caught died due to not being able to survive in the wild. If these individuals who were “saving” the mink had known anything regarding domesticated animals, they would have known that the mink could not have survived.
Social media is a continuously growing industry, and studies show that the media environment can lead to changes in people behavior and thoughts. Media Ecology studies media as its on environment, and the messages that it shares. Media is constantly evolving and changing, from newspapers and print magazines to digital everything and being able to access everything online.

According to studies done throughout the 2000’s, the opportunity for online gratification is constantly increasing. People who are more satisfied with their face-to-face lives are more likely to share about it online, and can then have the opportunity to receive more gratification and happiness from their online social lives. New mediums being shared is having more of an impact on people and society more than the message used to share them. With paid partnerships and influencers being a way to make a viable income in today’s society, there is no wonder that social media can change our behavior.
One way that people’s behavior and opinions were changed by an online post was the “pink slime” controversy. ABC News spoke out about this substance being used in McDonald’s products and a public outcry to McDonald’s corporate practices was voiced. Variations of what this substance was discussed, ranging from the classes lips and hooves to rotten meat and even Styrofoam. As a result of fear based consumerism the public stopped purchasing certain products, and some even refrained from buying any meat at all. McDonald’s was not the only industry affected, and the meat and beef industry took a hit. Cattle prices were down, ranchers were losing money and some were even forced to dissolve their ranches.


What is this “pink slime” in-reality? Centrifuged meat trimmings from the processing plants that was created to lessen the waste from the previously unusable and wasted meat. It can be used in sausages, pet foods, and yes even hamburger at times. ABC recently paid legal fees and settlements equaling $177 million to Beef Products Inc. which had hundreds of layoffs and even had to close several of their processing plants due to the controversy surrounding the story.
With more people with access to social media than ever, the opportunity for fake news about agriculture is a larger threat than before. Facebook alone has an estimated 2070 million users in 2017, with that number coming up from 100 million in 2008. The fake news being shared online is slowly changing the way agriculture is seen by the public, and if this fake news continues to be spread, the agriculture industry will be damaged beyond repair through lowered commodity prices, and even a decline in foreign trade which will damage the economy.

The most worrisome issue in the fake news phenomenon is that credible national news sources such as ABC are spreading information without doing the proper research to back it up. The opportunity to share anything and voice your opinions is a great freedom to have, however when the information being circulated and distributed online is false, it creates a negative impact beyond what clicking the like and share button do.

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