If you use social media to share information about agriculture, you have probably had a run-in with a “troll.” When they aren’t busy blocking bridges, trolls can be found harassing people online. They don’t have questions or a sincere interest in learning more about how food is produced – they’ve already made up their minds. Their goal is to get under your skin and make you lose your cool. And, they want to distract you from reaching the consumers who really matter.

The rise of social media has given a microphone to everyone with a keyboard. On one hand, this gives farmers and ranchers platforms to easily share their stories. On the other, it’s given activists and extremists the opportunity to get more attention. Online, it’s incredibly easy to make a few voices sound like thousands, especially on potentially anonymous platforms like Twitter. You can even pay to have your tweets automatically retweeted by fake accounts (yes, this is a real thing). 

Around 2 percent of the population of the United States is actively engaged in agriculture. On the other side of the spectrum, about 2 percent of people in the U.S. consider themselves to be vegan – meaning, they consume no animal products. It sure seems like more than that when activists are hijacking Twitter chats or stealing farmers’ images to manipulate, doesn’t it?

While it is extremely tempting to jump in every time we see activists maligning meat and poultry production, I’m worried that we’re wasting energy that we could be directing toward the 95.5 percent who fall somewhere in between. I first became acquainted with the concept of the ‘moveable middle’ in my past life working in marketing, but I’m glad to be hearing the term more and more in agriculture.

In a nutshell, the concept of a moveable middle is that some people are going to love you and some people are going to hate you. Your efforts are unlikely to make the lovers love you any more or the haters hate you any less. Instead, the highest and best use of your resources is to focus on the majority of people who fall somewhere in between. By spending your time on people in between, you can hopefully convince them to move closer to the “love” end of the scale.

The vegan constantly tweeting myths about livestock production will most likely never listen to you, despite your most well-researched arguments and emotional stories. However, the casual friend who “unfollows” you because she’s tired of watching you argue in her newsfeed might have listened, given the opportunity. Don’t lose your chance to connect with the genuinely interested and curious consumers because you’re always on the defensive.

The next time activists inundate our Facebook comments sections or use hashtags to post gory images, perhaps we should take a page out of Taylor Swift’s book and ‘shake it off.’

Editor’s Note: Hannah Thompson is the Communications Director at the Animal Agriculture Alliance, and the opinions of this commentary are expressly her own. For more information on the Alliance, go to: www.animalagalliance.org