Messerli-survey: Hate speech and more. What farmers experience on Facebook

A recently published study by the Messerli Research Institute, Unit of Ethics and Human-Animal Studies (author: Christian Dürnberger 1) has attracted a great deal of media attention (among others the following media reported:, Die Presse, Kurier, Salzburger Nachrichten, Kleine Zeitung): The study examined the experiences of livestock farmers in social networks and indicates that this profession is (also) exposed to Hate Speech.

“Murderers”, “animal abusers”, “exploiters”, “criminals”. In the study, farmers report that the criticism they receive on Facebook can be quite radical. Other typical insults and accusations are, for example, that farmers “force the cows to get pregnant and rape them”. There even are “Holocaust comparisons”. Often the criticism is personal. One female farmer reported, “I was accused of having no empathy and being a bad mother, because I have cows and take the ‘babies’ away from them.”

Other farmers spoke of insults and threats made against their children, including comments that they “shall also be roasted” or “should die of cancer”. Study author Christian Dürnberger of the Unit of Ethics and Human-Animal Studies at the Messerli Research Institute summarises: “The study shows that livestock farmers who present their work in social networks are often confronted with hate speech because of their job.”

This finding is particularly problematic because livestock owners not only feel a responsibility to comply with more animal-friendly standards, but also to find new ways of communication – especially by engaging in a more direct dialogue with consumers and citizens. In this context, many studies, books and institutions discussing communication measures for the agricultural field advise farmers to use social networking services such as Facebook or Twitter. “Although social networks, and Facebook in particular, have often been the subject of scientific analysis, and although there have been numerous studies and surveys on agricultural players, the role of farmers on Facebook has hardly been investigated to date,” says Dürnberger, explaining the motivation for his research.

The study also examined the motives of the farmers: Why do they present their work on Facebook? Their motives are not limited to immediate economic objectives. Instead, the farmers also aim to provide general information and engage in a dialogue on agriculture and livestock farming. In this way, they hope to regain the leading role in agricultural discourses and improve the general understanding of current agricultural practices.

The understanding of dialogue that emerges here is not unproblematic. Although many of the farmers use the term “dialogue” in the study, they do not usually understand this to mean an open exchange among equals but rather as the delivery of knowledge from experts (= farmers) to laymen (= citizens). “It is questionable to what extent such an understanding of dialogue is sufficient to adequately deal with critical inquiries in social networks,” Dürnberger says, pointing out room for improvement among farmers who are active in social media.

“The study shows that simply demanding that farmers make greater efforts to engage in a direct dialogue with citizens and consumers is not enough. If this direct contact between food producers and consumers is indeed socially desirable, then there must also be an analysis of how this dialogue actually works. And we must ask to what extent this dialogue can be shaped more constructively,” says Dürnberger.

The article "You should be slaughtered! Experiences of criticsm/hate speech, motives and strategies among German-speaking livestock farmers using social media" (open access) by Christian Dürnberger was published in the International Journal of Livestock Production: 2

A detailed interview with Christian Dürnberger about the survey was published by Biorama: 3




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