Complex reality – social media

With respect to having published now for 25 years, we’re, in part, celebrating this milestone by reprinting our first 12 cover stories of Alberta Beef Magazine. These profiles have, after all, from the beginning put a face to the men and women who make this province’s beef industry so great.  I was perusing one of the past issues and read an opinion column (spring 1991) that spoke to the growing pressure from animal rights fanatics and their quest to pretty much bring our industry to an end. At this time, Ralph Klein was environment minister and under his watch was a plan to put down the Wood Buffalo herd because of an outbreak of tuberculosis, controversial to say the least. This happened prior to the kickoff of the Calgary Stampede parade that he was participating in. Sure enough he received a death threat which necessitated Ralph having special security during the parade. The threat (likely from the fanatics) also gave notice they’d infect cattle herds should the Wood Buffalo herd be put down. As we know the plan was shelved due to the negative publicity and Ralph went on to do greater things.

Things haven’t change much with fanatics since then and today, they have even more arrows in their quiver to threaten our industry. It’s called social media. Last month I spoke in part to the challenges our industry faces dealing with these zealots all the while trying to maintain our consumer market share. Sadly it’s not working that well and the internet is part of the reason for this slide. Ergo the question last month, can we do a better job promoting our great product? Certainly developing our sustainability framework will address this [new] need in producing beef in a particular fashion and improving the optics but, the internet is a formidable force that can and does so easily hijack reality.

In one of the many studies on this new age computer tool, there are interesting points to consider. Here’s an excerpt from one study on the topic that addresses conspiracy theories or put another way we can relate with, misinformation. “One of the more publicized conspiracies is the link between vaccines and autism. These alternative narratives, often in contrast to the mainstream one, proliferate on Facebook. The peculiarity of conspiracy theories is that they tend to reduce the complexity of reality. Conspiracy theories create (or reflect) a climate of disengagement from mainstream society and from officially recommended practices – e.g. vaccinations, diet, etc. Among the most fascinating social dynamics observed is trolling. Before, trolls were mainly people who just wanted to stir up a crowd, but the practice has evolved. Trolls today act to mock the “believe anything” culture. They basically attack contradictions through parody. Trolls’ activities range from controversial and satirical content to the fabrication of purely fictitious statements, heavily unrealistic and sarcastic. For instance, conspiracist trolls aggregate in groups and build Facebook pages as a caricature of conspiracy news. A recent example was a fake publication of “findings” that showed chemtrails had traces of Viagra in them. What makes their activity so interesting is that, quite often, these jokes go viral and end up used as evidence in online debates from political activists.”

Sound familiar? This is partly what our industry is up against on a daily basis. So I thought it borderline comical and definitely frustrating (don’t like to see taxpayers dollars wasted for political gain) when I read that in the last federal budget the CCA is to receive $4 million dollars of which $2.6 million will be invested into documenting and demonstrating our industry’s commitment to educate, I suppose, consumers that our product is safe and sound. I quote from one of the press releases, “develop tools that will facilitate uncomplicated access  and utilization of programs by beef cattle producers and provide the means for verification to enable the marketplace to communicate the virtues of the Canadian Beef Advantage in a meaningful way that consumers can understand and have confidence in.” Sure reads Justin Trudeau like, all warm and fuzzy however, I look forward to seeing what measured and meaningful changes this money and the program(s) bring to improving our industry’s market share/growth. If nothing else it will keep [some] people busy chartering the new and improved course of action – navigating the rivers of social media.

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