Over the past several years, I have become a well-known target within the online agricultural community. I have experienced multiple rape threats, targeted harassment, and emotional abuse. I have watched other people who similarly speak out on social issues face the same harassment from the same group. It has been so virulent at times, I’ve questioned my love for agriculture.
What causes this group of farmers, keynote speakers, and even podcasters to publicly cannibalize their own? These bullies have self-appointed themselves as gatekeepers of agricultural social media. The lesson they teach? Fall in line or get out. Protect the status quo or suffer the consequences. They are doing a great job, as it is atrophying the industry.
Unsurprisingly, these bullies reinforce many of the negative stereotypes often attributed to farmers and ranchers. Homophobia, racism and sexism are rampantly, unapologetically exhibited with predictable regularity. These are not exactly traits that endear an industry that is 95-percent white and 74-percent male to a diverse public.
These bullies face no repercussions or accountability from the agricultural community at large, and that inaction has normalized a cavalier attitude online. In fact, they are often lauded as heroes among their confederacy every time a target of their abuse blocks them—written off as lamentations that no one can take a “joke” anymore.
In the rare instance someone attempts to stand up to the bullies, they are quick to suffer. An orchestrated barrage of victim blaming, gaslighting and other abusive tactics will make the online experience unbearable. The bullies go on to create new accounts to replace their blocked ones; they find new targets, and they are a perpetuate the abuse, keeping the status quo safely in power, for now.
In addition to alienating their own, this behavior is creating an environment of discord, further driving a wedge between the gate and plate. The public is watching these attacks on those who dare speak out to make agriculture more welcoming. Consumers will not want to learn from farmers who are openly hostile to their way of life. Outreach aimed to connect farmers to consumers fail when the farmer refuses to engage an audience different from herself.
Young agriculturists are not coming back into the industry when they see vicious attacks on their returning peers. Strong voices that communicate to our consumers in an effective manner are being silenced, and they are leaving for industries that value them—leaving agriculture to wither. While the industry absolutely needs young, diverse, passionate people, how can we draw in and retain these fresh talents when our industry is openly and proudly toxic?
Agriculture loves to perpetuate the idea of supporting our own, as long as they are unquestioningly obedient. In a world that is striving to celebrate and seek diversity, attacking the non-normative is a slow, painful death sentence. The bullies of agriculture are so afraid their voices will no longer be relevant as the good old boys club is being replaced that they are willing to kill the industry they claim to protect.
Megan Brown is a sixth generation rancher based in Plumas County, California. You can follow her on Twitter at @MegRaeB.