Buddle, E. A., Bray, H. J., & Pitchford, W. S. (2017). Keeping it ‘inside the fence’: an examination of responses to a farm-animal welfare issue on Twitter. Animal Production Science.
Social media sites have become common sources of information about current affairs, and animal-activist organisations, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), use these networks as campaign tools to raise awareness against animal agriculture. The aim of the present study was to understand how an animal-welfare issue was discussed in Twitter, in Australia. Twitter Application Programing Interface data featuring keywords and hashtags were initially collected between April and May 2014 to examine tweets on animal-welfare issues in the absence of a triggering event. In July 2014, PETA released footage portraying ill-treatment of sheep in Australian shearing sheds, generating 9610 tweets in 7 days, including themes such as disgust, condemnation of the cruelty, and calls to boycott the wool industry. PETA’s social-media campaign began 24 h before comment in conventional news media online, highlighting the role of social media in leading conventional media campaigning. Associated Twitter activity from the wool industry was limited. It is concluded that Twitter is not currently an effective medium for conversations between producers and the community about farm-animal welfare, despite encouragement from industry. While there are positives for producers and industry to be on Twitter, including the promotion of their business and communication within their micro-publics, Twitter as a platform may not be ideal for generating a dialogue between producers and the community. Further research into how people engage with the content, not just through the study of retweets and amount of traffic, is required to understand whether social media has potential to change attitudes towards animal production.