While social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak keeps us from coming together, technology enables us to connect.
Social media can be lifeline to keep in touch with friends and those with common interest, but it has challenges.
When it comes to controversial food topics — GMOs, hormones, antibiotics, food ingredients and pesticide use, for example — online conversations can become heated and even turn ugly.
Anonymity feeds the problem. Most likely, the hostile responders could be states or countries away and don’t have to face the person they’re attacking at the office water cooler or at the next family gathering.
Add in the stress of the current situation and it’s easy for comments to become a vent for anger and frustration.
So how do you respond when an online conversation takes a turn for the worse? Enlist these simple 7 tips for social media posts:
- What is the issue and what values are being expressed?Dissect the post. What’s the underlying area of concern in the person’s comment and what does that person value? Is it food safety, animal well-being, care for the environment, family or community? People are very concerned about the health and safety of their loved ones during this time and may lash out.
- Determine if it’s worth a response: By the tone of the comment, do you feel there’s an opportunity for a productive dialogue? If so, continue a conversation by sharing your values about the issue and relevant information — in a timely manner. Sometimes it’s worth it to respond no matter what. While you may not be able to persuade the attacker, others are watching the dialogue unfold and may be impacted by your words.
- Engage with values: The goal with any conversation is to help the person understand where your values align — that there are goals you share. Research from The Center for Food Integrity shows that engaging with values — demonstrating what you do — is three-to-five times more important to building trust than simply providing facts or demonstrating your technical expertise.
- Never argue: Arguing will get you nowhere. It only deepens the divide as both sides hunker down for battle.
- Engage others to comment on the issue: Consider enlisting allies who would be willing to join in the conversation with support.
- Take your conversation offline: Acknowledge the responder’s concerns and offer to connect offline via email or a phone call. Most often, you won’t hear from that person again, but you have demonstrated that you’re open and transparent.
- Agree to disagree: After a few exchanges, you may be able to determine that this person doesn’t recognize your right to be involved in agriculture and food production. If that’s the case, agree to disagree and end the conversation.
If you have a public social media platform, such as a Facebook page as opposed to your personal profile, consider having a comment policy that outlines what is acceptable and unacceptable. The policy may not allow foul language, name calling or threats, for instance.
A comment policy is not intended to put a damper on dialogue with those who have differing viewpoints. It simply assures your readers that you’ve created a positive and civil environment where they’re encouraged to comment in constructive ways and engage in productive conversations.
Engage shared values training is available through The Center for Food Integrity to equip you to communicate using shared values. The seminar can be presented as a webinar. Engage Online is available anytime online.
For more information on how you can engage in productive conversations to build trust in the food system, contact Jana McGuire.