LONDON, Ont. — Andrew Campbell started the new year by sharing the day-to-day events on his Middlesex, Ont., dairy farm with his 13,000 followers on Twitter.
Then the hijackers moved in.
Outraged at Campbell’s project to share the positive news from his agricultural operation and teach what life is like in agriculture, vegan groups from around the globe and individuals opposed to the livestock industry moved to swamp his Twitter postings that used the hashtag "#Farm365."
(For those not familiar with Twitter, hashtags are keywords preceded by # in Twitter messages, allowing people to easily search a topic or follow a particular issue.)
Along with Twitter messages decrying the use of animals for food, there was a steady stream of photos of dead livestock and animals being put down.
In some postings, farmers were called murderers for sending animals to slaughter and rapists for having their livestock artificially inseminated.
Many suggested it was immoral for farmers to use "non-human animals."
Farmers and supporters of Campbell fired back on Twitter, defending agricultural practices and the compassion of producers.
Campbell said he was surprised by both the extent of the global attacks and the reaction from producers in other countries who took to Twitter to post photos from their own farm operations.
"What we have seen is there are activists concerned about animal care and thousands of farmers who are concerned about animal care. There is just maybe a little bit of a gap there," Campbell said Monday.
The challenge from the farm side will be to show others what is being done for animal care, he said.
As for the extremists, Campbell said he and others have decided it’s not worth trying to engage in a debate with them.
"We are up for discussion, we are not in this for a fight of any kind," he said.
By Monday, the bitter tweeting battle expanded to the #Ontag hashtag, a hashtag usually used by people in Ontario’s agriculture industry to share information on such things as upcoming workshops and the latest farm reports.
Despite some of the extreme reaction to his hashtag project, Campbell is determined to continue with it.
"If anything, this shows the reality that there is a gap in the information on how animals are raised on farms. It shows it is an important thing that is needed," he said.
London technology expert Carmi Levy, a writer with voices.com, said there is no workable way to defend against such hashtag hijacking.
"No one individual or group ever really owns a hashtag, anyway, so there’s nothing stopping anyone else from using the hashtag in a manner different from its original intent," Levy said.
While there is no foolproof solution, Levy suggested companies and organizations can mitigate their exposure by planning for it in advance and being able to respond to attempts to use a hashtag in a counterproductive manner.
If they have someone who can respond online, organizations may be able to counter the hijacking by redirecting the discussion, shifting it to an entirely different hashtag, or even moving to a completely separate social media service if that fails, Levy said.