/Inside the social media war between animal activists and farmers

Inside the social media war between animal activists and farmers

Posted

May 29, 2019 12:02:06

Australian farmers and animal activists alike are being targeted in an online battlefield, with threats of violence and death delivered via popular social media platforms, an ABC investigation has found.

Cyberspace expert and author of Troll Hunting, Ginger Gorman, has described the vile abuse and identity theft aimed at farmers as workplace harassment.

“We need to understand that the sort of cyberhate farmers are getting is effectively a new kind of workplace bullying,” she said.

WARNING: This story contains examples of online abuse.

The front lines of a cyber war

Beef producer Sue Francis has described life on her New South Wales farm in posts on her Facebook page.

She said the feedback had mostly been positive, but 18 months ago she posted a photograph of a “cull” cow — one that would be sent to the abattoir — and wrote that the animal would experience her “one less than perfect day”.

A flood of abusive comments followed.

“I’d probably describe Sues (sic) day of death as ‘one beautifully perfect day’.”

“On behalf of that amazing cow … burn in hell!”

A week later, when Ms Francis posted a picture of four cattle killed by lightning, the nasty commentary escalated.

“You are a sick f***ing pervert animal abuser”.

“You rape and kill animals, wake the f*** up moron”.

“I’ve been called a rapist, murderer, paedophile, psychotic,” Ms Francis said.

“Every insult they can throw at you they will.”

Photos were also taken from her page and re-posted on another, with an invitation to “give her heaps”.

She has blocked more than 200 users.

“I no longer engage with the very hard-core vegans There is no point engaging with them,” she said.

Representative bodies at a loss

Tara Lee, a cattle farmer from outback Queensland, has also had a barrage of hateful comments on her Instagram account, which is devoted to station life.

“It has got to a point where I am afraid to put a photo up,” Ms Lee said.

“I used to retaliate, but it would egg them on.”

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One attacker stole her photos and identity from her social media accounts, and used them to set up fake accounts to bully and attack other farmers.

“That was the thing that scared me most of all, just how far he would go to make me look and feel bad,” Ms Lee said.

Farmers said they had not felt supported by their representative bodies, such as Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and the National Farmers’ Federation.

“For the past nine years, producers have been asking bodies to either be more proactive in educating the public or be more proactive in refuting some of the rubbish that gets out there about industries,” Ms Francis said.

Asked if his organisation was doing enough to combat the abuse, MLA managing director Jason Strong said:

“It’s a difficult question about doing enough, and when you deal with people who are often irrational and emotive it is quite hard to know what enough is.

“What we have to do is be more proactive around red meat production, around its nutritional benefits, around its benefits as part of a diet.”

Animal activists in the firing line

It is not just farmers being targeted. Animal activists are copping equally vile online abuse.

Chris Delforce, producer of the Dominion film and the Aussie Farms map, which identifies farm locations across Australia, has received hundreds of aggressive, threatening emails and social media comments directed at him and his supporters.

“We are coming for you. We are armed and waiting for your return. Try and trespass on any private property — you die.”

“Sleep tight, I believe you are going to get a visit.”

“C***, I pray someone punches you hard enough in the throat that you choke to death”.

“I’ve seen literally thousands of vile aggressive threatening messages sent to activists, sent to myself, that are far worse than any comments that I’ve seen directed at farmers,” Mr Delforce said.

Ms Gorman said an online “disinhibition effect” empowered so-called keyboard warriors to say whatever they liked.

“Social media companies don’t help you, law enforcement doesn’t help you, so the structures that keep us safe in offline life are not actually there online,” she said.

It means victims often lash out in retaliation because they see it as their only option.

Ms Gorman said social media platforms, particularly Facebook, benefited financially from these online “wars”.

“If you have a cyberhate event, where you have farmers piled onto by extreme vegans and then farmers fighting back, there is this kind of war going on online, and it’s very vicious and damaging and sustained,” she said.

“What that does is increase the users of those social media platforms and essentially increase their revenue, so it’s not in their best interest to stop cyberhate.”

Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline this Sunday at 12:30pm or on iview.

Topics:

social-media,

internet-culture,

information-and-communication,

rural,

livestock,

animal-welfare,

law-crime-and-justice,

psychology,

nsw,

australia,

qld,

melbourne-3000,

vic