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The digital age is expediting the pace of animal protection and animal advocacy around the globe. We’ve entered a new era for animal rights and social media is largely to thank for that.


Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have been game-changers. They’ve democratized the act of spreading information and knowledge. Anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world can put out content that can be seen on the other side of the globe in an instant. The share function offered as a function of certain social media platforms is of particular importance. This allows content to be shared outside the circle of friends, family, and colleagues that most people are connected with on these platforms.


For centuries, and especially the last 7-8 decades with the global spread of factory farming, animal agriculture benefitted from the complete lack of transparency. There has been a shroud of secrecy surrounding animal agriculture, preventing most from knowing the extent to which farm animals suffer before becoming meat or producing milk and eggs. And trust me, farm animals suffer egregiously. Confinement, mutilation, and genetic manipulation are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the ways in which farm animals face brutality from birth to death.


People care about animals and certainly don’t want them to unnecessarily suffer. Big Ag knows this, which is why they do their best to hide the truth from people and mislead them into believing that chickens, fish, cows, pigs, and other animals are treated well.


Social media has helped lift the veil and expose the hidden cruelties that these animals face. Many of the vegans I know became vegan because they learned about how animals are treated, usually through personal interaction, a documentary, or something they saw on social media. When people learn about the reality that farm animals face, many of them change. Some overnight, some over the course of time.


Another way in which the age of social media has changed the game for animals is that it’s helped mainstream veganism. Vegans often are a bit louder than others, so our way of life has been amplified. Many people who had never heard of veganism know of it now. People who thought veganism was fringe and freakish likely believe it to be more normal these days. And many people who were casually familiar with the concept before now openly embrace it or have even become vegan themselves. As more people talk about veganism and animal protection issues on social media and beyond, the more mainstream these become.


Finding and building community is essential for many people who don’t eat animals, especially in the days, weeks, and months after making the decision. Through hashtags, groups, events, and tags on social media, you can connect with dozens or hundreds of others who are also vegan and also passionate about making the world a better place for animals. It’s made finding vegan recipes and resources significantly easier than in the pre-social media days.


The advocacy being done on these platforms also has inspired people to become activists, which then inspires others to do the same. It’s a beautiful snowball effect of compassion. Using social media platforms has also been a major tool that animal advocacy organizations have used in their campaigns for animal welfare.


If you are reading this, you are living in the digital era. You are likely one of the people responsible for expediting the pace at which this world becomes kinder for animals. Take advantage of the resources at your disposal like the social media apps on the phone at your fingertips. And if you want to take your social media game for animals to the next level, enroll in one of my three online, self-guided social media courses that I’ve created with Advocacy Collaborative. Become the best advocate that you can be using these new tools in your toolbox. The animals are depending on it!



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John Oberg at Barn Sanctuary [photo by @apaigephotography]


I went vegan in 2009 and immediately got involved with animal activism. I dipped my toes in all kinds of animal advocacy, from showing people factory farming videos on a tablet on street corners to giving out free samples of vegan food to handing out vegan pamphlets on college campuses. I loved this newfound passion of mine. Nothing felt more satisfying than having a single interaction with someone that I knew could lead to real changes that would save tons of animals. The exponential growth of change that could be sparked as a result of animal advocacy was just amazing to me. Little did I know where that passion would ultimately lead me.


In 2009, social media was sort of in its infancy. MySpace and Facebook were the big players then, with MySpace on a slow decline and Facebook experiencing a meteoric rise in popularity. In those days, social media was reserved for interacting almost exclusively with your friends, family, and maybe your colleagues. There wasn’t much of a public presence of influencers or individuals speaking outwardly to the world. Communication was much more internal. Over the next several years, that would change, and platforms like Twitter, with its very public-facing presence became increasingly popular.


In May 2009, I joined Twitter. I basically never tweeted, but claimed my username (just my name, @JohnOberg), uploaded a profile picture, and pretty much left it dormant for a few years. As my passion for animal advocacy and quest to make as much of an impact as possible took off, I looked to make connections in the animal advocacy movement and to influence other vegans and get them inspired to take part in activism. I recognized that social media could help me achieve these goals.


As I started using social media more, I started to realize the huge potential. I realized that I could use these digital platforms to not just supplement the work I was already doing in the physical world, but perhaps to make an even bigger impact in the digital realm.


In 2012, I entered full-time animal advocacy. I was hired by Vegan Outreach to travel around North America going from college to college handing out pamphlets that talked about how animals were being treated on factory farms and the benefits of vegan eating. I loved this work and found it to be incredibly meaningful. At the end of every day, whether I was in Iowa, British Columbia, or Oklahoma, I felt like I had made a positive impact for animals that day. I heard all the time from people who had received a pamphlet a previous semester or even earlier that same day who had been moved by the information. Moved so much that they were changing the way they ate and lived.


In 2014, I was presented with the opportunity to take over the social media for Vegan Outreach. My passion had been leafleting, not social media activism, so I was reluctant but agreed to take it on as the new Director of Communications for the organization. I very quickly realized, however, that I could make a HUGE impact for animals here. By using Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, I could reach dozens or even hundreds of times the number of individuals I could reach in person-to-person outreach on streets or college campuses. Even though it was from behind a computer or phone screen, the impact was absolutely there. For context, in one 12-month span of leafleting, I handed out 250,000 leaflets, which was considered a lot for that time frame. When I started running the social media for Vegan Outreach, I would reach 250,000 people almost every single day!


Why does this matter? Well, you may be vegan yourself because of something you saw online or in a documentary about the world that animals endure. When you get others to see this content, you are inspiring them to make changes that help animals. At the very least, even if you don’t turn someone vegan instantly, you are helping to chip away at the walls they have up and to be more open to the idea of eating and living in a way that is compassionate towards animals.


For the last seven years, I’ve focused the vast majority of my animal advocacy in the social media realm. In that time, tweets and posts of mine have been seen over one billion times. Not counting for repeats, about one in six people in the world have seen something that I’ve posted about animals to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.


Two and a half years ago, I left my job to pursue full-time animal advocacy completely independently. Part of my efforts over the last 28 months has been to empower animal advocates to utilize social media and help way more animals than they otherwise would. I’ve spoken at conferences, conducted webinars, and posted videos to my Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts about how to be a better animal advocate on social media. None of this even comes close, however, to what I’ve recently put out into the world.


Over the course of about six months, I worked tirelessly to create an in-depth, comprehensive online course called “Mastering Twitter to Change the World.” It’s the best thing I’ve ever created as an animal advocate. Alongside Advocacy Collaborative, who is hosting the course at AdvocacyCollab.com, we created a course that will take any animal advocate and turn them into an absolute expert who will use Twitter to create real change for animals. This is the greatest contribution I’ve ever provided to this animal advocacy movement and I’m incredibly excited about the fact that many animal advocates will now be able to help so many more animals by using Twitter more effectively. Enroll in my course now and watch for my upcoming courses on mastering Instagram and Facebook!


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Today, I have a guest blog post to share with you all. This great piece, Why Aren't You A Vegan?, was written by Felix Edge-Partington, a London-based animal advocate.


Why Aren’t You A Vegan?


Have you ever really thought about it?


Disclaimer


Disclaimer - the following text is not an attack on anyone who eats meat or consumes any form of animal products. Almost all vegans once ate/drank them, and should always remember this. The line between right and wrong is blurry, and we are all – regardless of what we eat or drink – constantly wandering either side of it. I personally have only been a vegan for only approximately 1/37th of my life at the time of writing. How easy it is to become vegan also varies massively depending on many factors, such as your background, family to name just a few.


So no, the following text is not an attack, or an order, and I hope it does not come across that way. Instead, it’s an invitation for you to take a few minutes to think more deeply about where the food and drink you consume come from. It’s an invitation to put a little bit more clarity on where the line of right and wrong truly lies. If you do have a little time to spare, and fancy challenging yourself, please do read on.


Non-Essential Items


Do you think that eating animal products is essential for your health? A significant number of scientific studies, along with the millions of vegans living worldwide, have proven that animal products are not required for a healthy diet of humans at any stage of their life, including infants. If you want to learn more about this, and the positive impacts of a vegan diet on health, I suggest the following sources: Forks Over Knives, Game Changers, The China Study, Viva Health.


It is important to note here that I’m not claiming that a sensible vegan diet is better than a balanced diet that includes animal products. I’m simply arguing that it is not worse, and does nothing to negatively affect humans’ health. So… no negative health consequences – no reason not to go vegan, health-wise. This also means that the act of eating/drinking animal products is done purely for pleasure, in exactly the same way that someone might hunt and kill an animal (that isn’t endangered) for pleasure. Neither of these activities are a necessity, and, despite common perception, should be treated the same morally. That consuming animal products is an act of pleasure, rather than necessity, is an important point, particularly when considering whether the other following reasons for consuming animal products are ‘worth it’.


Well-Fair?


If you don’t think animals should suffer in order for humans to be able to satisfy their demand for animal products, maybe you believe in ‘high-welfare farming’. This is the practice of farming animals who are ostensibly free from:


  • thirst, hunger or malnutrition;

  • discomfort or exposure;

  • pain, injury or disease;

  • fear and distress;

  • the inability to express normal behaviour.


Can these conditions be guaranteed under the current farming practises worldwide? In 2020, undercover cameras in the UK - supposedly one of the most advanced countries in terms of animal welfare - found shocking levels of animal abuse still occurred in several farms. Clearly the regulations in place are not currently sufficient to ensure the conditions listed above. In most other countries, the conditions, on average, are worse. If high welfare farming can’t be guaranteed, the quickest way to change this is to refuse to consume these products – and go vegan – until they are.


But even if these conditions were met: if farmyard animals lived a humane life; if pigs weren’t slowly suffocated and roasted to death, did not have their tails and teeth forcibly removed, and weren’t left writhing in pain whilst covered in their own excrement; if cows weren’t beaten and abused, torn from their mothers immediately after being born, and forcibly impregnated over and over again; if chickens weren’t packed so densely they cannot spread their wings, bashed to death on metal rails, and forced to lay eggs at rates high enough to cause their bones to become brittle and broken; if sheep weren’t castrated with no anaesthetic, stamped on and punched in the face whilst being sheared; if fish weren’t descaled whilst alive, crammed into small enclosures and asphyxiated, gutted and crushed alive


Even if all of these things did not happen, and animals lived a happy, healthy life, they are still killed, by humans, earlier than they would die in nature.


The Kindness of Killing


What exactly is humane slaughtering? Can it be humane to take the life of an animal for the pleasure (remember, pleasure because we don’t need animal products to be healthy) of humans? ‘Humane’ is defined as ‘having or showing compassion or benevolence’. Is it compassionate or benevolent to take the life of an animal for the production of something that humans don’t actually need? Would you mind if someone killed your dog, cat, or any other pet you have a bond with, simply because they enjoyed it? The only difference is the bond. The only difference is our perception.


What act is worse – treating farmyard animals in an inhumane way whilst alive, or actually taking their lives? Would you rather be repeatedly punched in the face, or be killed? This may seem like a silly question, but the point is that humane slaughtering does not exist, because taking a life is not humane. There is a reason that someone goes to prison for a longer amount of time when they commit murder than when they assault someone. In the same way, taking an animal's life - even if they feel no pain - should be considered worse than the suffering it endures beforehand (although this shouldn’t be disregarded either). Humane contains the word human. Maybe we should change it to animane.


Some may argue that without farming, thousands, if not millions, of farmyard animals would not have lives. In response to this, I ask – would you want to be born into the conditions I described above - to the conditions that the majority of these animals endure? Clearly some are closer to high-welfare farming than others. But, as argued before, until we can guarantee humane conditions across the globe, should we be creating life that so blatantly suffers so greatly? Yes, millions of animals may be given life, but millions of animals are also subjected to a huge amount of suffering. More on this later...


Empathy


I have just asked you to put yourself in the hooves/trotters/fins (etc.) of farmed animals. Maybe you find this silly. Maybe you think animals are simply on a lower level to humans, and therefore cannot be empathised with. Maybe you therefore find it perfectly acceptable to treat them with lower standards of welfare. If you do, why is that? Is it their lower intelligence? Their shorter memory? The fact you can’t communicate with them? Something else?


Ethical values for human and animal welfare are fascinatingly disparate. In human society, we fight passionately for the rights of the less fortunate, the less intelligent and the most vulnerable. In general, the greater the difficulty a human has, the more we feel they are deserving of our compassion. Whether you fall on the left, center or right of the political spectrum, I highly doubt you would argue against the idea that hardworking people should have the right to build a successful and happy life for themselves. If I were to argue that I should be able to inflict suffering on a human (purely for my own pleasure) because they are less intelligent than me, or because they cannot communicate with me, or even because they won’t remember it, you would brandish me a monster, right? So, why do we treat animals any differently? Why do the standards differ so greatly? We don’t fight for animals; we eat them.


Man’s Best Friend


This year, Kuno the dog was awarded the Dickin medal. This is awarded to animals that have displayed "conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the UK Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units". In the same year, at least 1.5 billion pigs were slaughtered for meat around the world. Studies have shown that pigs outperform 3-year-old human children on cognition tests and are smarter than any domestic animal, including dogs. Do you ever wonder why we are so inconsistent in how we treat different types of animals? Do you think that more intelligent animals should be treated worse than dogs? Do you think less intelligent animals that still feel pain should be treated worse than dogs? Would you rather eat a dog, or just not eat both a dog and a pig? Maybe we should just treat all animals in the same way as we treat dogs?


Natural Law


Many people argue that consuming animal products is ok because we’ve “always done it” and “it’s in our nature”. But can you think of any other things that humans used to do because of their natural urges, that in the context of modern society we would look down on in horror?


We don’t do these things any more. Why? Because, although we used to do them, this doesn’t mean we still have to do them, should do them, or that it is right to do so. If we never changed our behaviours because “we’ve always done” them, society would never progress at all. Throughout human history, we have constantly developed our moral and ethical standards, fighting our natural urges to increase our compassion for, and the way we treat, other humans. Do you think it’s time we extended this - fully - to animals?


Disconnect


We have become disconnected. Disconnected from where our food and drink come from, how it is made and at what cost. Do you think there is a reason that slaughterhouses remain behind closed doors? If I asked you to kill the animals that you eat, or separate their families, would you be able to do it? Maybe you would, but would you honestly feel no guilt from doing it? No guilt from taking away any joy, pleasure or freedom that an animal could have experienced had you not killed it, just for your own pleasure? Remember: even if you don’t kill an animal, by buying its carcass, or milk, you are responsible (either partly or wholly) for its death and/or the suffering it’s likely to endure.


Again, if your response to this is “I don’t feel guilty because they wouldn’t have lived at all otherwise”, ask yourself whether you would feel comfortable rearing humans and inflicting the same suffering on them. If the answer is “no”, then, as already discussed, why is doing it to animals any different? Just because it is not appropriate to treat animals in exactly the same way as we treat humans, it doesn’t mean it’s not appropriate to treat them in the same way for basic rights to freedom and compassion. Is the pleasure you gain from consuming animal products worth their suffering?


Think


Ultimately, this all comes down to a trade off between how much you enjoy animal products, and how strongly you believe it is wrong to consume them. Maybe you believe it’s morally wrong to do so, but you find it so god damn tasty. But just like how thieves enjoy spending the money they steal, the only thing stopping them is their own moral compass. I’m not saying you are a thief, nor am I nor am I telling you what to do, nor am I judging you – I’m just asking you to think about it.


So… when you eat/drink animal products, will you think about whether you need it for your health? Will you think about whether the animal you’re eating has suffered, or indeed whether it deserved to? Will you think about whether the animal has been killed prematurely, or indeed whether the animal deserved to be killed prematurely? Will you think about whether you would mind going the same way? If you do, the taste might start to become slightly more bitter...


Next time you eat or drink animal products – please think.


Help and information on how to go vegan can be found at https://www.vegan.com/how/







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