Farmers and ag advocates continue to flock to social media in large numbers to promote their products, compare farming practices or engage with consumers about food production among other communications.

But farmers should remain leery and guard against becoming a YouTube sensation due to hidden or staged video aimed at making farms and the livestock industry look bad.

Allyson Jones-Brimmer, director of industry relations for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, discussed animal activism tactics and methods for farmers to protect their livestock and their reputations at the Illinois Pork Expo in Springfield.

The Illinois Pork Producers Association hosted the annual event.

“There’s more than 100 different (animal activist) organizations we track,” Jones-Brimmer said. “They definitely have a lot of money and resources ($4.3 billion in assets and about $500 million in annual spending) behind what they’re doing. Each group uses a wide variety of tactics.”

Some standard tactics used for animal activism include everything from celebrity promotions and influencing school teachers to include animal rights’ messages in curriculum to lobbying efforts.

However, more recent efforts to sabotage farms and promote animal rights have become much more aggressive and remain a growing concern.

“Undercover employment and video that we’ve seen over the years is definitely a tactic still being used today,” Jones-Brimmer said. “Having a rigorous hiring process is really important. I can’t stress that enough. If there’s red flags, investigate.”

Red flags include workers seeking temporary work on livestock farms or who apply for jobs from other states.

Activists also misrepresent themselves to gain access to farms, such as posing as census workers or as government officials after natural disasters.

Other activists hold protests or “open rescues” on farms in which they trespass and remove animals from farms without permission.

So, what can livestock farmers do to protect their farms and operations from sabotage?

“Make sure you have basic security in place, including locks, motion sensors and cameras. You should also have a process to welcome visitors and escort them at all times,” she noted. “And YouTube-proof your farm.”

How can farmers “YouTube-proof” their farms to reduce their chances of ending up on a staged video?

Livestock farmers should extensively vet all potential employees, provide employee training and implement an auditing system. They should also always strive for continuous improvement.

Once they have those systems in place and are comfortable communicating in public, farmers should consider expanding their community involvement and joining social media as methods to interact with consumers so they can separate food production myths from facts, Jones-Brimmer added.