Online, And Out Of Touch?

On June 6 2010 Khaled Mohamed Saeed was sitting in a cybercafé in the Sidi Gaber area of Alexandria, Egypt when two police detectives arrested him and allegedly beat him to death. A Facebook page called “We Are All Khaled Saeed” was subsequently set up in memorial to Saeed, and quickly became Egypt’s biggest dissident Facebook page.Asmaa Mahfouz, one of the founders of the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, posted a video blog calling for a mass uprising one week before the start of the protests in 2011. This video blog, along with the Khaled Saeed page, has been credited as a strong catalyst to dissent in the form of protests and an eventual revolution by the Egyptian people.

If one thing is clear it is that the internet played a massive role in positive social change in Egypt. So why then do some animal rights activists insist that abolitionists “hide behind blogs” (ironically while writing this in a blog) or that online activism is somehow less important or successful than traditional street activism? I would suggest that they have not thought the issue through, or are just out of touch with the digital age that we live in. After all, if online activism can effect huge social change in a country, surely it can affect a huge shift in how we view our relationship with the other animals we share this planet with. I hope I can show how important online activism is to spreading a positive abolitionist vegan message.

The prominent and brilliant science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, writing in the May 1970 edition of ‘Popular Science’ magazine, imagined that one day we would have consoles in our offices that combine the functions of a telephone, a television set, a photocopier and a small electronic computer. He predicted that these machines would be “tuned in to a system of synchronous satellites” and would “…bring the accumulated knowledge of the world to your fingertips.”

Clarke’s prediction sounds like what we now know as the World Wide Web, which is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the internet, where we quite literally have the “accumulated knowledge of the world” at our fingertips. Fast forward about 40 years and in 2011 the majority of the developed world is online with hundreds of millions of people on social network sites like Facebook and Twitter, and millions writing regularly on blogs or video blogs, all of which can be viewed by almost anyone in the world with the right search tool. Virals and internet memes spread like wildfire (hands up anyone who hasn’t been Rickrolled?) and on demand TV services and Youtube are quickly replacing our traditional television set viewing. In short, everyone and their grandmother uses the internet.

The internet is not only used for entertainment purposes, but also has an important part to play in advocacy (as highlighted in the Egypt example above.) Indeed, some governments view the internet as a threat, for example the Chinese government has an active 50,000 strong ‘internet police’ that erase critical voices within minutes. Amnesty International has said that China has the largest number of imprisoned cyber dissidents in the world. Although awful, when a state is this fearful of dissent surely this displays the power that we all have at our fingertips when using the internet.

Before the internet became affordable and accessible to almost everyone in the developed world, the animal rights movement was a very different place. All activists knew was that which is dictated by the few organisations that had the most money to distribute material. Organisations like PETA pushed Peter Singer’s ‘Animal Liberation’ and anyone who criticised Singer or PETA’s campaigns struggled to be heard. Gary L. Francione is no stranger to this struggle, being the most vocal opponent to PETA and their adoption of Singer’s philosophy as well as their sexist and speciesist welfare campaigns. It wasn’t until the internet became accessible that his Abolitionist Approach to animal rights started to gain attention and has now become a fast growing international movement.

What has followed is a growing number of excellent abolitionist blogs and advocacy materials that can be downloaded, printed, and used on street stalls and other vegan advocacy events.

My purpose here is not to say that online activism is the most important form of activism one can undertake, I believe that our activism should be creative and this means that it must take many forms, the internet being only one of these. My point is that given our societies increasing use and in some cases dependence on the internet, it would be foolish to dismiss online activism as “hiding behind a blog” or not as important as traditional street activism. As vegans we must keep up with society and utilise the internet. We must keep producing compelling an informative abolitionist blogs and videos and actively speak to non-vegans on social networking sties and forums about veganism.

Ross Mitchell is a member of Grampian Animal Rights Advocates, who are acknowledged as being the first group in the UK to shun New Welfarism in favour of abolitionist animal rights advocacy and vegan education.

You can find out more about Grampaian ARA by visiting www.grampianara.org, or by e-mailing info@grampianara.org