It’s probably already a good rule of thumb to be careful regarding just who you befriend if you frequent bars.

But if you or an employee of your agricultural operation fits the above description, there is now an extra reason to be cautious.

A new trend that has popped up within the past year is animal rights activists building false relationships with farm or processing plant workers, both through social media and through in-person interactions.

During the Nebraska Poultry Industries Virtual Conference on February 24, Hannah Thompson-Weeman, vice president of strategic engagement for the Animal Agriculture Alliance told of the latest tactic.

Animal rights activists have already been active in scheming ways to make the meat, poultry and livestock industries look bad, and one new way they have started to do that is by trying to actively recruit “whistleblowers” to work with them. In these cases, the activists try to build relationships with people who have some “inside intelligence about a farm or facility,” she said – whether those individuals realize they are being used in this way or not.

“They are targeting farm and plant employees, trying to either make them feel sympathetic to the activist cause or depict themselves as wanting to help disgruntled employees take down large companies,” Thompson-Weeman said.

But there are also instances of activists hiding their true intentions and trying to gain their trust with hopes of getting hired by their agricultural employers with the intent of doing harm to the business. In some instances, there have even been cases reported to the Alliance in which the activists try to start what may be viewed as “romantic” relationships.

In one case, Thompson-Weeman said, the Alliance heard that an activist moved to an area and started hanging out at a bar where employees were known to go, and built relationships with those workers.

Befriending agrifood workers online is also a relatively new tactic. In these cases, they usually develop fake social media profiles to attract them in hopes of gaining some form of anti-agricultural ammunition – known as “catfishing.”

“This type of social engineering is happening quite frequently,” she said.

Preventative measures

For employers who might have workers that could be likely targets, Thompson-Weeman said it is important that they are very aware of worker morale so they won’t turn on them. Thompson-Weeman also noted the importance of having internal methods for employees to report any true concerns they do have so companies can react swiftly.

But perhaps most importantly, make sure that nothing is happening within your operation that could be used against you, and that you have “no vulnerabilities to exploit.”