The Simple 7: When Online Posts Get Nasty


When it comes to controversial topics about food production — GMOs, hormones, antibiotics, food ingredients and pesticide use, for example — online conversations can get nasty, and fast.

In fact, heated dialogue around any topic is more likely to happen online because of the anonymity of it all. 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.

So how do you respond when an online conversation takes a turn for the worse? Enlist the Simple 7 of Social Media Posts:

  1. 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? Where do your values lie when it comes to the issue at hand?
  2. Determine if it is 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.
  3. 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 Canadian Centre 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.
  4. Never argue: Arguing will get you nowhere. It only deepens the divide as both sides hunker down for battle.
  5. Engage others to comment on the issue: Consider enlisting allies who would be willing to join in the conversation with support.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

One way to protect yourself when it comes to hostile posts on a blog or Facebook page is to have a comment policy that outlines what is acceptable and unacceptable. It’s not intended to put a damper on dialogue with those who have differing viewpoints. A comment policy 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 Canadian Centre for Food Integrity. For more information on how you can engage in productive conversations to build trust in the food system, contact Jana McGuire.


The image Typing by SidewaysSarah is licensed under CC BY 2.0.