By Seth Harden, Education Specialist, National FFA Organization
Have you ever heard the adage that 77 percent of statistics are made up on the spot? I have always found this to be humorous, but a few recent articles published by The Washington Post and the World Economic Forum have highlighted just how quickly false science, conspiracy theories and other fiction can spread in our unprecedented era of unbounded connection and communication with virtually every other human on Earth. Unfortunately, agriculture is often the subject of attack.
In fact, sharing of misinformation has become so prolific that it warrants an entire field of research, including terms such as confirmation bias, echo chambers and trolling. Even Google and Facebook, which undoubtedly had a hand in creating the art of self-publishing, are developing trustworthiness scores and newsfeed algorithms to combat falsehoods.
How does this change the way we share the impactful stories and progressive science of agriculture? This all depends on how we leverage the capabilities of online platforms. In 2015, the National FFA Organization #SpeakAg Initiative challenged students to share their own agriculture stories with the masses through social media. Nearly 150 students participated and estimated that their audience was 55,000 people collectively. We can be certain that many of these students are housed in their own echo chambers, electronically socializing with others who have similar mindsets, but the impact of such a small group of students cannot go unnoticed.
If all or even a portion of the National FFA Organization’s 629,000+ members were to be trained in effective advocacy through credibility, respect and literacy, imagine how the future of the agricultural consumer-producer interface could improve for the better. Informed tweets, posts, shares and snaps could reach millions and stifle misinformation with pure saturation of fact. Students have demonstrated the ability to impact the present through modern era tools like social media, but more importantly, they will be the influencers of public perception, consumer trust and production practices as adults in the not-so-distant future.
National Ag Day provides student leaders in agriculture with the opportunity to put these skills to the test not only locally, but also in Washington, D.C., a place where discussion and collaboration are a way of life. National Ag Day serves as a symbolic reminder of the need to advocate 365 days of the year for an industry that feeds us, clothes us and provides solutions for other facets of society through a complex interconnectedness of an ever-advancing set of technologies that could be our friend or foe at any moment.