Discover the power of social media – and use it

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Aleri Swalwell of Strathmore was the junior winner in the first annual Alberta Young Speakers for Agriculture competition at the Calgary Stampede for her speech on how farmers can use social media.

Tweet — post — blog — viral — hashtag — inbox — bookmark — surf — hack — thread.

Fifteen years ago these words had entirely different meanings than they do today — in fact some of them were not even part of our vocabulary!

Tweet was something that a bird did. Thread was used to sew. Surfing was done on ocean waves. And a bookmark was something we used to remember where we had been reading.

Yet, we now find ourselves in an era where we need to learn this new language.

A critical question related to farming today is: How can we improve the media’s perception of Canadian agriculture? But before addressing that question, we need to spend some time on another one: What is the media?

What comes to mind when you hear that term? The dictionary defines media as “the main means of mass communication.” When I asked my parents and others from their age group, the most common response was, “TV news, radio, and newspapers.”

For generations, media was a ‘one way’ form of giving news. You had to buy a paper and sit down to read it. Or turn on a radio and tune into the news. Or enjoy an evening TV news broadcast at a set time. Although these avenues are still available, the media is no longer limited to these options.

These new words that have entered our vocabulary in the last few years have revolutionized the way that information comes to us 24 hours a day. Social media is drastically different, in that people are now able to interact with the media. This ability to dialogue back and forth can be both beneficial and detrimental.

In the ‘old media,’ there were — and still are — standards governing the journalistic integrity of the information. However, very few — if any — standards exist when it comes to the Internet. Things or ideas get blown out of proportion instantly and are spread around the world at a phenomenal rate. No longer are sources checked for accuracy and proof, but absolutely anyone can post their own interpretation as factual information. I am growing up in a time when it is hard to sift through the tons of confusing viewpoints.

One characteristic of the media that has not changed however, is that people love sensationalism. So unfortunately, using fear and drama is a huge part of the media world. This has been utilized to promote inaccurate and often biased ideas about farming in Canada.

The responsibility of providing accurate, well-researched information is a daunting and looming task.

While looking for information for my speech, I came across a documentary produced in Saskatchewan called “License to Farm.” It was released in January and was made to address the growing concerns of consumers who mistrust the food system, specifically GMOs.

Activists (including movie actors) are taking advantage of the new media where about 80 per cent of people now have access to information in the palm of their hand. These public fears may end up putting pressure on our governments to put more legislation on farmers. It is unfortunate that so much of the information is not scientifically based, but rather popular and trendy. The documentary also highlights the realities of how farmers themselves are extremely conscientious regarding pesticides as this affects the health of their own families, their own industry, and the future environment.

It is encouraging to see the agricultural community using YouTube and other social media to attempt to get the balanced, truthful facts out to the public. We need to invest time and money to fight back against the false perceptions and do it in a way that can compete within the ‘trendy new media.’ We need to recognize its power and influence, and be willing to use it to tell our stories.

Watch the “License to Farm” documentary. Share it with others. This could be the start of a new wave of speaking out with scientifically based productions that blast the myths and confusion out of the water!

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