Nine Good Communication Practices for Vegans on Social Media: Making Progress in 2020
Okay, before anyone gets in a snit, I’m not saying I have all the answers; I’m not saying I have any answers. I am merely saying I have some ideas on communication practices to leave behind or adopt in the new year with spreading the vegan message.
Social media is no longer a shiny new toy and hasn’t been for a while. It is here to stay and as a medium for communication, it can be utilized powerfully and persuasively, but it can also work against our goals just as potently if we’re not careful. While it can be tempting to share links and make posts without much forethought because it is so convenient, I think we all need to craft our messaging thoughtfully so we can be as effective as possible. In that spirit, I have put together nine practices to consider adopting or leaving behind in the new year so we can get the most bang for our buck for the animals.
• Do not share sloppy journalism or unverified clickbait, no matter how much you want to believe it.
Some vegan media outlets seem to have a policy of growing their number of followers at the expense of journalistic integrity. It is understandable that these outlets are seeking clicks, shares, comments and engagement to boost visibility: it is a competitive landscape out there in social media land and we are on a 24-hour news cycle so I do get why this happens. That said, misinterpreting news stories to make them sound more favorable to veganism, cherry-picking factoids without the broader context that grounds the story in actual reality and generally hyperbolizing to create an uplifting post that people will want to share is an ultimately harmful practice. Anyone who spends even a few minutes clicking on the original articles — if they can even be found — will discover that often they are sensationalized and/or grossly misinterpreted.
When we share this kind of easily debunked story, it makes us look desperate and gullible — or dishonest, or illogical — making those who do take the time to investigate less likely to trust what vegans have to say about anything and this undermines our overall credibility. As the ones who are doing the outreach on behalf of animals, this credibility is immensely important. As someone who is also pretty active on social media, I understand the allure of these posts as well as anyone but I still think that it’s a good idea to resist the urge to share without first doing your due diligence with regard to research. Don’t just be taken in by a splashy and enticing headline: Go to the original source. (If you can’t find it, don’t share.) Make sure it’s still current. Take the time to read and think about it critically. We owe it to the animals to be sources of information that stands up to scrutiny, not knee-jerk slingers of anything that is attention-grabbing or positive sounding. We also owe it to the outlets that actually take the time to offer researched, fact-checked and nuanced news items to value their work over shiny, feel-good but ultimately deceptive clickbait. In 2020, let’s share links with more discernment.
• That said, resist becoming a Debbie or Danny Downer.
Enthusiasm is contagious and this is why the feel-good posts are so tempting for some of the vegan media outlets to lean heavily on: they tend to be popular and well-received. Positivity can be irresistibly persuasive. Let’s keep this in mind with the people you may know or encounter on social media who are vegan-curious or newly vegan. Many will stumble as it is often a steep learning curve and they may not understand every aspect of animal exploitation. Showing some support and patience, resisting the temptation to finger-wag at someone who is just starting out and gently educating in an encouraging way can mean all the difference between a newbie feeling empowered with guidance and someone who feels like a failure. At this critical juncture of the learning process, it can be very easy to give up. In 2020, let’s model mentoring more with a carrot and less with a stick.
• Along those lines, let’s stop nitpicking posts to death.
Do you ever feel like there are some people who are looking for anything “problematic” to point out about a post? It’s a widespread issue in social media, for sure, but it also feels almost compulsive amongst vegans. It’s like a super depressing version of Where’s Waldo: Where’s the flaw I can point out? There’s got to be one. It often seems like there are people in some kind of competition to look at even the most innocuous of links or pictures shared and point out any conceivable problem. The dog in the cute video? Clearly he was being teased by the person making the video. The picture of the opossum in your backyard? You shouldn’t have disturbed her peace by taking a picture. The video of birds at a bird feeder? You’re not supposed to feed birds. It goes on and on. Before I post anything these days, even with the most anodyne content, I try to think of every possible way it could be misconstrued and turned into an opportunity to finger-wag at me. I know that I am not alone with that. It’s annoying and it gives the world the impression of vegans being the joyless scolds of the world as if we don’t already have that PR problem.
Instead of looking for negative things to give voice to, maybe, I don’t know, find something else to do? Not everything is a big, hairy deal, and we all should be allowed simple little pleasures in the world, even if they’re dogs jumping in leaf piles (“I hope he doesn’t get a stick in his eye!”), rescued chickens eating seed (“I hope it wasn’t GMO…”) and a child hugging a goat (“Where is the adult supervision?!”). If you can reserve your concerns for when they are deserved rather acting as armchair critic/honorary hand-wringer over every little thing you notice a potential problem with, people will take your words more seriously. In 2020, let’s stop assuming the worst and stop nitpicking everything to death.
• Share materials from a range of vegan creators — writers, artists, recipe developers, speakers, etc. — not just the same people again and again.
Have you noticed that so often, veganism is perceived as a “white person” thing? I wonder if the fact that so much of the content I see shared on my social media are videos and lectures from the same five or six doctors or activists again and again, most of whom are white and male?
I am not begrudging them — I am truly grateful to everyone who is helping to shift society away from eating and harming animals — but I do think sharing the work of a wider range of creators not only helps us to broaden and deepen our understanding of relevant issues and hone our own approaches but also helps us to reach those who don’t exactly relate to a white man lecturing them. Please consciously make an effort to share materials created by women of all ages, non-binary people, people of color, people in larger bodies, disabled vegans and other groups that don’t fit into the tidy little box that is so often pulled from, striving to include a variety of voices that are seldom heard but worth sharing. Also, broadening your range of what you share has the potential of reaching more people: cooking videos, the work of artists, podcasts you enjoy and on and on. In 2020, let’s all strive to share more variety from under-represented vegan creators.
• Do not body shame or share media that is reinforcing of weight stigma.
Ugh. Seriously, why is this form of bigotry acceptable? I’m thinking because non-thin bodies do not align with Western (*cough*white Christian*cough*) standards of physical attractiveness and activates our internalized puritanical wiring that tells us that people in larger bodies are lazy, self-indulgent slobs. To many who promote body-shaming messages, it isn’t a form of bigotry, it is an expression of tough love. And to others, it is unapologetic hatred and disgust.
The deeply entrenched attitudes that reinforce weight stigma and promote diet culture are a whole different topic than the fact that veganism is not a weight-loss tool. Some people may lose weight as a vegan. They may stay the same weight. They may gain weight. They may lose and gain weight. None of this is your business and none of this has any bearing on the fact that veganism is a social justice movement grounded in the foundational principles of compassion and justice and put into daily practice through living intentionally. Adding more fuel to the toxic fire of weight stigma and diet culture by promoting notions — your own or through the links you share — that some bodies are deserving of shame, especially knowing how rampant eating disorders are, is really unkind and if your bottom line is helping other people or the animals, you are doing both a great disservice. Shouldn’t veganism be welcoming and empowering rather than shaming and scolding? Wouldn’t that attract more people and save more animals? In 2020, I hope you will join me in not sharing content with explicit or implicit body shaming or diet culture messages.
• Do not make empty promises about plant-based diets making us bullet-proof.
Plant-based diets are not a guarantee of anything with regard to your health. Full stop. Not if you are raw. Not if you are high-carb. Not if you are low-carb. Not if you are SOS-free. You may enjoy some health benefits but there are no promises that you will. If you don’t, it’s not necessarily because you were the “wrong kind” of vegan but because our bodies are fallible; even machines are imperfect. Spreading the message that there is a way to render yourself invulnerable to disease is dishonest, irresponsible and insensitive. Yes, we know that eating more plant foods is good for us. Will it make us bullet-proof? Nope. Anyone claiming otherwise is selling something, often quite literally. In 2020, let’s be mindful of not spreading the empty promise that plant-based diets are a guarantee of perfect health.
• Try to always remember how it felt to be pre-vegan so you can be the most help to someone who’s transitioning.
If we have been vegan for a while, it can be easy sometimes to be dismissive of someone else’s experience. We all have different circumstances and backgrounds, which can make it more or less easy to adopt veganism into our lives. I think a helpful approach happens when we think of the kind of people we would have wanted to have been exposed to when we were transitioning but also remember to be flexible to those we’re trying to have a positive influence on. For some people, a direct, no-nonsense approach works best; for others, any hint of dogmatism will send them running for the hills. It’s less about our preferred communication style if we want to be a positive influence but more about sensing the best approach for the individual you are trying to reach. Because so much of this happens online and without the added cues of body language and vocal tone, often we can only hazard a guess, but tending toward assuming the best rather than the worst about a person is a good place to start.
While there is no magic formula — and be suspicious of those activists who claim there is because, again, we’re not automatons — being honest but approachable and showing compassion as well as humility and humor are qualities that can disarm people again and again. In 2020, let’s aim to be the kind of advocates we would have wanted to meet when we were transitioning.
• Stop worshipping at the altar of saviors and celebrities.
We’ve seen them before: The anti-fur activists chasing women down the streets with megaphones and a smartphone on record. The self-appointed gurus who center themselves in pictures and videos rather than the animals. The people who seem to be performing for an audience or at least accolades on social media. The organizations that are on a seemingly endless quest for media hits. It is all too tempting in this age of instant likes and opportunities for dissemination to keep trying to create viral, or perhaps just widely seen, content. When we are motivated by clicks and likes, we can lose sight of the ethical basis of why we are doing and for whom we’re doing it and we can get derailed by the allure of becoming celebrity figures, rather than trying to elevate the conversation and re-center the animals. Activists on social media can quickly race to the bottom of the rabbit hole in search of visibility. When this happens, their efforts become more about flash than substance and more about personality than anything meaningful or lasting for the animals.
Unsure about the person you’re supporting? Some questions to ask yourself might be: Does this person share the work of others on a regular basis, especially those who are of minority status? Does this person seem to be constantly selling, even if what he or she is selling is free, like their own personality and content? Does this person frequently center him or herself in photos and videos that purport to be about animal advocacy? Is this person already abundantly supported by many on platforms like Patreon? Only you can answer these questions for yourself, but perhaps rather than be another drop in a bucket that already overflows with ample support, consider spreading that around to great content creators and activists for whom those drops of support would be virtual lifeblood to keep going. In 2020, let’s stop the hero worship and the cult of personality: Substance over style.
• Know when to talk away.
I’ll keep this last one succinct. There are people who just want to mess with you. They will tell you that they’ll eat all the meat you’re not. They will “mmm…bacon” at you regardless of whether it makes sense or not. They will post pictures of dead animals. They are not worth your time. Move on to the low-hanging fruit, don’t waste your precious, precious time on trolls with nothing better to do. In 2020, resolve to stop wasting your time on those who don’t value it.
Okay, some of these are easier said than done (hello, that last one) but others just take a wee bit of discipline before they become habits. Ready to take some on?