So it’s now official. We live in the age of “post-truth politics” in which people form their views not from facts or good journalism, but through emotional responses to opinions expressed on social media which support previously held beliefs.
At least, that’s what it says on Wikipedia.
But you wonder if it really is something new.
The fact is people have always formed their views through dubious sources.
History tells us that to raise the English dander in early 1066 King Harold preferred to refer to William of Normandy as “William the Bastard” when rallying his troops.
History doesn’t tell us if Harold’s men bothered to fact-check William’s parentage by looking for corroborative sources.
More likely, they just made up rude songs about the Prince of Normandy.
Of course, by the time the French spin-machine got going after the Battle of Hastings the victor became known as “William the Conquerer”.
In a spin
Spin and propaganda probably go back to the dawn of human history, but one suspects that social media is shaping politics, consumer behaviour and mass opinion in new ways today.
If it’s not trending on Twitter or going viral through Facebook, then it’s not doing much out there.
The question for agriculture is how do we respond, if at all?
Do we really have to master this new rather anarchic morass that is the information superhighway.
One suspects we do.
The thing about farming is it attracts a curiosity in the non-farming public in ways other industries do not.
We look after animals, which always excites the overemotional interest of the British public.
Quite why the British above all nations have this heightened interest in animal welfare is not clear.
Maybe too many of them witnessed the murder of Bambi’s mother at a formative age.
But, rational or otherwise, this sentiment is out there on social media and, as an industry, we need to remind our customers and fellow citizens that our animal welfare standards are world beating.
Then there’s the difficult fact our factory floor is the all-too-transparent and much-loved British countryside.
It’s a place where competing demands for conservation, production and leisure can often collide. Again, we need to be savvy with our messages as to what we, as farmers, are up to in the way we steward the landscape.
To cap it all off, we produce food.
As Joe Wicks tells his five million Twitter followers – what you eat and how it is produced and cooked determines human well-being.
For those of you who think Joe Wicks is the heir to the nation’s leading building suppliers – you need to get out more.
Or rather you need to get on to social media more.
Joe Wicks is the nation’s new diet guru who attained that status largely through the internet.
He encouragingly says to stay lean we need to eat more.
Unfortunately, it seems to involve a lot of raw broccoli.
As the new year dawns, the “eat less” message will be foremost across the social media as we are constantly reminded of the obesity epidemic.
Just as “drive less” is not going to help petrol sales, “eat less” is a tricky marketing message for farmers. “Eat better, source local and exercise more” is going to be a much better strapline for us.
So let’s prime our iPhones and get our tablets at the ready.
There are 65 million fellow Brits out there who need encouraging to work up a healthy appetite for our produce.
Many of them will have resolved on 1 January to take more exercise first thing after they get out of bed.
Let’s do what we can through social media to help them keep that resolution every day throughout the year – followed by a full English breakfast from British farms.