Keeping a discussion on social media constructive can be a real challenge, especially when the other side goes negative, or even hostile. But nobody wins in an online shouting match. So how do we advocate and educate on controversial issues without getting drowned out by the noise?
1. Find your common ground.
This may be easier said than done, but we can usually find some level of common ground with people who hold opposing viewpoints. Granted, those people may have some harsh opinions and unkind words as the conversation heats up, but chances are the discussion would look far different if they weren’t shielded by their computer screens. As you prepare to address a topic, consider opposing views and the types of people who may disagree with your stance. When it comes to agriculture, there’s no shortage of opinions — informed or not. This shouldn’t surprise us. The people who would tell you how to run your farm may have equally strong opinions on how their doctors and mechanics should do their jobs as well. We don’t have to make sense of everyone else’s viewpoints but we can evaluate their perspective and find broad areas to agree on. Take a mom who’s anti-GMO. Do you both want safe, affordable food for your families? It’s probably safe to assume the answer is yes. You may differ in how to arrive at that goal, but you can lay the groundwork for a productive discussion if you at least share the same starting point.
2. Keep your facts front and centre.
Be sure to have solid examples and numbers on your side from the start. It’s not hard to rally like-minded peers around an issue, but if you want to engage in a thoughtful debate with opposing viewpoints, do your homework and triple-check your facts. Bringing facts straight from your farm can help educate your audience far more effectively than broad generalizations. When you’re advocating for regulatory reform, talk about the specific steps you’ve taken and farming techniques you’ve adopted that have improved your farm’s sustainability. Show the difference in the amount of water and pesticides you use thanks to advances in technology. Even better, show your audience pictures or videos of what a modern sustainable farm looks like, or use Facebook Live or Instagram Stories to bring visitors to your farm in real time. You may not win over your opponent with one compelling photo or clip, but you’ll leave them with something to think about as you set the stage for your next interaction.
3. Acknowledge when the other side has a valid point (and learn from them).
We may learn a thing or two by studying our opponent’s playbook. Are there specific strategies and messages that seem to be working for them? To help sharpen your own tools, take some time to consider what makes their messages effective. None of us can be right about all the things all the time. But we can go a long way in establishing credibility with others who may be listening in on our debate if we give credit where it’s due when the opposing side makes a good point. If you stay focused on building your reputation as a credible resource, you have a better chance of making all your words count, even if you don’t get the last word.
Few of us have been persuaded to change our opinions after just one discussion. Keep that in mind and relieve yourself of the pressure of trying to change a person’s opinions and habits via just one Facebook thread.
Kari Barbic is a media specialist with the American Federation of Farm Bureaus.