When things heat up, be nice or take a break

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So here we are at the halfway point of summer, and things continue to heat up – not only outdoors, but in politics and on social media. International trade, tariff discussions with China and the possible renegotiation of NAFTA are all hot topics.

In tense situations, temperatures run hot, too, and it is important to keep your cool. My granddaddy used to say “be like a duck, calm on the surface and paddling like the dickens underneath,” and I think that’s good advice. When we’re stressed out, it’s easy to pop off and say (or post or Tweet) things that we shouldn’t. Even if we have second thoughts and go back to the “delete” button later, the damage may be done.

One of the things that I find most interesting about social media is the number of “lurkers” in the community. Whether on Facebook or Twitter, there are the few people with whom we interact, then there is the silent majority. They don’t “like and share,” they don’t “favorite or retweet,” but they are always there…reading what we write and watching how we interact with others.

Many of these lurkers are in what is known as “the moveable middle,” and they are an incredibly important sector of the social media audience. Those are the people who may not have strong opinions either way on the subjects of GMOs, international trade, the use of chemicals in modern agriculture or antibiotic use in poultry and livestock. They’re probably looking to those of us who are in agriculture for information, and they acknowledge us as the authority on these subjects because we deal with them daily.

So, who are YOU more likely to believe, “Levelheaded Larry” or “Bobby Blowhard?” Seriously. Many of these lurkers are friends of friends on Facebook, or they see a retweet of what you said on Twitter. They don’t know you, and their only impression as to your credibility may be seeing what you write on social media and how you write it. Do you approach a subject in a calm, factual manner, or do you just “let it fly” and refer to consumers with derogatory language

It’s true that consumers sometimes “don’t know what they’re talking about” when it comes to modern agriculture, whether it be row crop production or the raising of livestock and poultry, but the conversations in which their lack of knowledge becomes clear is the perfect time to share what you know instead of brushing off their concerns. We don’t know it all, either. What is a common practice in one part of the country may be unheard of in another, so it’s important that we speak to what we do know.

And, if you find that you can’t be positive and civil on social media, it is perfectly OK to take a break. An unknown wise person once said, “you don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” If social media has stopped being a place where you share farm pictures and compliment your friend’s grandchildren, if you find yourself getting upset or angry when you log on, step away for a while, cool down, and come back in a week. If you keep engaging when you are in a poor mental state to do so, that will come through loud and clear in your posts and tweets.

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