Introduction and Background Information:
Before the Internet, activism in general was somewhat limited in comparison to what is achievable today. I say “somewhat limited” very lightly because this is not to discredit what activists in the past have accomplished and history proves that activism is successful, with or without technology. An example of this is “The March for the Animals [which] offered an…opportunity to interview large numbers of activists conveniently. Participant recruitment occurred by means of advertising in movement literature, march leaflets and booklets, and through informal activist networking” (Jamison, Lunch, 1992). Print media and word of mouth being the main forms of recruitment for the march, and without the tool of social media, 25,000 marchers came together in unity for the march in Washington, DC. It is however, important to look at how technology has come to influence how we view and participate in activism in the digital age. Today communication and organization can span across continents and link people together in an instant, allowing a connectedness between persons that can influence and produce change within our world. More specifically, online platforms have allowed for the conversation around animal rights to expand. Instead of having in-person pet adoptions and stapling flyers to phone poles when an animal goes missing, now the internet has allowed for a raised awareness of pet adoption, increased posting and sharing of lost animals, and even a larger platform for finding a place for an animal that needs to be re-homed. “With collaborative online tools like YouTube, Facebook, and many others at activists’ disposal, the streets and public squares are no longer the only place to turn for public demonstration” (Lopresti, 2007). In reference to this, author Michael Lopresti wrote in his article that in regard to influencing an amendment, traditionally one would write a letter to a senator but in this digital age it is just as productive to create a video and post it online to garner large amounts of support and enact change (Lopresti, 2007). Former standard means of activism referred to making a phone call, speaking in person, taking off work or dedicating time to protest, writing letters, however now, while these means still exist, there are endless more options and routes to explore that lead to activism. All of these adaptations raise awareness in today’s digital age, and in this specific case, we’ll focus on how online platforms have influenced and changed how animal activism is approached.
Defining what it means to be an activist and separating the ideas of raising awareness and producing positive change:
When asked if one is an activist, it is common that the person may not even know if they are or not. From experience, it can feel as if we care about a particular issue but are not committing enough time and energy to the cause to be considered an activist. In regard to this specific feeling, hopefully the following information will clear up any reservations and inspire you to contribute even when it doesn’t feel like much is influenced or changed. First it is important to establish the differences between the words civic engagement, activism and volunteerism. “Civic engagement includes all the ways in which individuals attend to the concerns of public life, how one learns about and participates in all of the issues and contexts beyond one’s immediate private or intimate sphere.” (Gordon et al., 2013, p. 1) While these words may often be used interchangeably, volunteer work, while under the same category of civic engagement, is not the same as activism. Volunteer work supports the organizations already in place which is fairly stagnant, while activism is a more progressive form of engagement as it focuses on changing and challenging existing structures, and organizing for transformations. An article written by Emma Pettit shows how social media platforms are still integral in garnering support for a cause but in this specific case, creators of “The Asher House”, Lee Asher and Luke Barton, decided to stop the “sharing [of] another post on Facebook to promote ‘adopt don't shop,’ [and] they decided to quit their day jobs, buy an RV and hit the road” (Pettit, 2018). This story is the epitome of going further than an online activist presence and committing to foot-to-ground activism. While more extreme than some are going for, still rings true for leaving the computer screen and pressing further to accomplish more within a particular field of activism. This example is the opposite of the coined term, slacktivism. We’ll get to this term later on when looking at the downfalls of online activism. For now, let us look at the more positive aspects of the digital age in concern for animal activism.
Benefits of the digital platform for animal activism:
A grand benefit of using online platforms to raise awareness and inspire activism is the number of people that can be reached in an instant. Millions of people are connected and in a second can be reading the same article or post. This is something that was not quite possible concerning print media. Prints of newspapers did not span across continents and certainly did not do so in an instant. A platform’s reach of audience is a large plus when looking at how effective influencing change can be. Adding to this, there are many organizations and persons alike using social media platforms to connect and engage in animal activism and a positive example of this would be “The Dodo”. “The Dodo’s goal is to serve up emotionally and visually compelling, highly sharable animal-related stories and videos to as many people as possible to help make caring about animals a viral cause” (The Dodo). Videos and stories from The Dodo can be found across a multitude of platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram. One person covered by The Dodo is Steve Grieg, or better known to Instagram users as @wolfgang2242, as he has dedicated his time and found his niche in adopting senior rescue dogs, and chickens, and a bunny, and even a pig! His page reaches a grand audience of 791,000 accounts and uses his platform to advocate for senior adoption and even works with outside organizations to showcase adoptable dogs that enter his home, writing posts about the adoptable dog, and thus giving them a greater chance of being adopted due to the great multitude of people the posts reach. https://www.facebook.com/thedodosite/videos/992873740847301/?v=992873740847301 This one person has direct access to over 791,000 people and with the ability to share posts and articles, his influence of advocating for the rescue of senior dogs reaches even further. Online platforms have connected people in such a way that as long as you are looking in the right place, you can find ways to inspire and participate in activism even with low effort, minimal time, and low commitment. These perks that come with social media and online platforms are not all positive though. Participating at a minimal level is arguably not activism at all. Real change needs to be enacted and worked towards, and sometimes we fall short of this when solely relying on our post sharing on Facebook.
Shortfalls of using an online platform for civic engagement:
While online platforms provide many positives when it comes to promoting and engaging activism, there are downfalls to how successful the engagement actually is to the cause. Sharing a post may make the person sharing it feel good but in reality the animal could not be receiving the help it needs at all. “We tend to think of the Internet in general, and social networks in particular, as connecting human beings. But the Internet is also famously mediated. We do not reach one another directly so much as through a layer of technology—an interface, a platform, a network—that someone else has designed” (Howard & Kollanyi, 2016, p. 5). This idea relays the message that while we are connected virtually, in reality we are not always actually connecting in the traditional sense of the word. This kind of disconnect is what allows for Internet users to believe they are producing change by sharing a post but in reality it falls short of activism. This is known as slacktivism https://beyondtype1.org/beyond-slacktivism/ While sharing posts will definitely raise awareness among a greater number of people, activism involves more work than solely mindfulness. As discussed in class, it is debatable whether or not people engaging in sharing posts online is actually activism at all. For this reason, many activists detest the use of social media and this “controversy over technology causes intramovement divisions—relating to literature that emphasizes the heterogeneity of movements” (Weisskircher, 2019). This divisiveness is another downfall to social media platforms being the sole form of activism used. Knowing the limits of technology and its influence in producing real change in the realm of activism is important when trying to keep this division at bay. Understanding all of these concepts is the first step towards changing behavior. Remembering to take the extra step and acting on this notion in producing change is all it takes when wanting to advocate for animal rights and being an activist for our voiceless companions.
Getting involved with animal activism does not have to be an all in effort or an all time consuming effort. Some people are able to dedicate their lives and their careers to animal activism but for those who cannot do this, there is still hope. Even starting off small is still progress that is working towards improving the lives of animals, advocating for them, and overall improving their general welfare within society. Being aware of both the benefits and downfalls that online platforms have in regard to online activism is the first step. Acknowledging how our efforts are helpful versus when they are just plain stagnant are all beneficial when looking at how it is possible to aid in the progressive and positive change that animal activism strives towards.
On a final note, I suggest checking out additional persons and organizations that are using social media to aid in their activism, but are not stopping just at technology. An example of this would be Amanda from the show Amanda to the Resue. https://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/amanda-to-the-rescue/ After all, this post only covers a drop in the bucket when in comparison to the grand topic of activism and the use of social media platforms.
1. For Animal People. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.thedodo.com/
2. Gordon, E., Baldwin-Philippi, J., Balestra, M. (2013). Why we engage how theories of human behavior contribute to our understanding of civic engagement in a digital era.
3. Howard, P. N., Kollanyi, B. (2016). Bots, #StrongerIn, and #Brexit: Computational propaganda during the UK-EU referendum.
4. Jamison, W., & Lunch, W. (1992). Rights of animals, preception of science, and political activism: Profile of American animal rights activists. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 17(4), 438.
5. Lopresti, M. (2007). Taking it off the streets: Activism goes online. EContent, 30(7), 14. Retrieved from https://login.libproxy.uncg.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/21 3816379?accountid=14604
6. Martinko, K. (2016, August 11). How Internet-driven activism has improved animal welfare. Retrieved from https://www.treehugger.com/green-food/how-internet-driven-activism-has-improved-animal-welfare.html
7. Pettit, E. (2018, March 04). Rescue dogs' U.S. tour makes stop in Arkansas. Retrieved from https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2018/mar/04/rescue-dogs-u-s-tour-mak...
8. Weisskircher, M. (2019). New technologies as a neglected social movement outcome: The case of activism against animal experimentation. Sociological Perspectives, 62(1), 59-76. doi:10.1177/0731121418788339