BY SARAH GREENWOOD
Animals are fast becoming the means of waging a proxy war between all the disparate ideological groups who have jumped on the ‘fur baby’ bandwagon on the one hand, and the exasperated and bemused real time carers of the aforementioned creatures on the other, along with the owners of the land upon which they live who have been forced into justifying their roles in land and wildlife management.
Sabs and antis project their own political ideologies and ideas onto these oblivious creatures with a view to changing society to satisfy their own egos. Ultimately, the way in which social media is being used to achieve change will be to the detriment of democracy, free speech, and animals.
Populist issues brought into debate in the public realm are no threat to democracy but when disinformation is planted and pursued with vigour, and those susceptible to the message are identified, targeted and programmed by use of social media and technology to believe and continue pushing that message, the general public are deprived of the right to information that informs a reasonable opinion, and subverts the democratic process along with the human right to information.
The activists within these groups have different motivations for being involved, ranging from hardline animal rightists who believe that direct action, aka violence and intimidation, is the main strategy to achieve their aims, to those motivated by animal welfare who believe that parliamentary process is important in legislating to protect animals, to the armchair anti cruelty brigade who use their laptop keyboards to ‘big up’ the ‘brave sabs’ that fight on their behalf to ‘save’ or ‘rescue’ the animals, and the local sab group founders, whose main motivation appears to be parting the foolish from their money via various concocted stories to elicit donations online, for which no accounting transparency is yet available to check exactly what these donations are spent on.
Animals have become the dumping ground for various political theories and philosophies that are projected onto them by those who want to change society for altruistic or egotistic reasons. In the public sphere, who doesn’t want to care for animals and promote their best life and welfare? It is a very worthy notion, but behind the scenes exists a cynical and self-aggrandising bunch of competing individuals, of groups and loose associations who use animals to promote the exploitation and destabilisation of society itself.
Traditionally, animal rights (AR) and animal welfare are associated with the political Left, specifically in connection with fieldsports because such sports were, and are, perceived to be undertaken by the ‘upper classes’, while direct action against hunting particularly was, and is, part of Left-wing political mobilisation. Class and Gender are two central themes to Left wing politics and to animal rights.
The muscling in of the Far Right in AR is only recent in the UK but is more pronounced abroad. It is connected with radicalising and then recruiting supporters by opposing ritual slaughter and by extension the ethnic groups who practice it. The Far Right manages to imbue its ‘Green’ sounding politics of anti -globalism, anti-capitalism and environmental activism with anti-Semitic and racist themes using similar rhetoric to Hitler’s National Socialists, who condemned animal cruelty then allowed the enactment of genocide. So, they’ve gone from 20c ‘Heil Hitler’ to 21c ‘Hail the Kale’ but their underlying doctrine is still the same.
More recently still, the Far Right have aimed to exploit and infiltrate the direct-action Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA). Margaret Flynn, the wife of neo–Nazi Terry Flynn, was involved in the Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire branch of HSA, with other leading Far Right group members infiltrating other HSA groups – they were also active against Huntingdon Life Sciences, using explosive devices on the cars of staff. A small group called The Green Brigade combined Nazism with a wish to destroy ‘the system that exploits our land, animals and people’, encapsulating the aims of both the Far Right and Far Left.
Historically animal liberation and social revolution were inseparable, and we have now got to the point where we have both left and right mainstream parties vying for voters via their use of the ‘fur babies’ within their narratives on social media and manifestos.
Increasingly, AR is becoming more mainstream, connecting both right and left as a cross-party issue via class, age, race and religion. ‘A mainstream political party hoping to realise high office cannot take on board the absolutist demands of the animal rights movement until such demands are approved by a greater percentage of the electorate’, so what drives the electorate to soften towards these extremists?
Democracy does not function without trust, and social media is an ideal vehicle for destroying trust. Disinformation is the tool of choice, and its dissemination is intended to ‘deceive and mislead for the purposes of harm, or political, personal and financial gain’. Disinformation is about power, influence and control and leads the audience away from making an informed choice.
Audiences are targeted by use of manipulated quotes and ‘information’ or using quotes out of context. This is published on social media, framed within an issue to fit the narrative along with cited references. Different actors and platforms are used to spread the message with slightly different changes to each use. Again, these are shared citing the previous platform that referenced them to show it’s ‘common knowledge’ and ‘legitimate’. Observing the truth, even though not used correctly, serves to legitimise false claims and undermines trust in whatever is targeted. An army of bots, trolls and posters spread the word and crowd out any dissenting arguments by ‘hazing’ and ‘gaslighting’, both of which are forms of abuse by trying to make the questioner look stupid and uninformed, and by accusing them of cruelty or worse.
Use of social media to polarise views leads to demonisation of the ‘other’. Commenters address each other in dehumanising terms and with real anger and vitriol, in a way they almost certainly would not if they were face to face. Plus, in real life the ‘other’ is a real person not a caricature. This dehumanising attitude allows opposing views to be discounted because the ‘other’ is bad, so if the ‘other’ is bad by contrast the believer must be ‘good’ and must fight the good fight. It does not matter if they are out-argued using science, fact and rationality – ‘gut feeling’ trumps all.
‘Anger’ is a word that crops up regularly in connection with animal rights activists. They are ‘angry’ about their perceived treatment of animals, so they need to act to ‘protect’ them. The next thing you know is angry confrontations between sabs and the perceived cruelty perpetrators and their ‘enablers’ occur, inevitably involving the police, where sabs manage to either get arrested and wear their arrest like a badge of honour, or sneer at the police and everyone else because they haven’t been arrested claiming they ‘aren’t doing anything wrong’. Pictures from these events are used to garner further publicity and sympathy, and so on.
‘Anger’ at the plight of the poor fur babies leads to posts designed, using appropriate words and tone, and accompanied by lurid photographs, to attention grab and cause a visceral effect to trigger negative emotions. One objective is economic, either where ‘clickbait’ posts accrue fractions of pence per click as they include advertising and the advertisers pay the website or blogger, or where the site’s linked to a fundraising platform. There is no transparency about what the funds are used for, leading to cynical suspicions that the blogger/blagger is doing it to line their own pocket and s*d the animals. Of course, funds can also go to funding the group’s activities, but it’s unlikely that donors will ever find out without lodging a fraud accusation.
‘Vanity’ is also a motivator. The challenge of ‘hacking’ a system and ‘leaking’ information earns both ‘respect’, and money. This information can be used to discredit an individual or organisation, which negatively impacts their credibility, trust, and reputation, and can be used to change policy goals. We can all think of examples of this particularly relating to hunting, and moorland management. To coolburn, or not to coolburn? That is the burning question!
Experiments to investigate the behavioural effect of fake news found that even short, under 5 minutes, exposure to fake news was able to significantly modify the unconscious behaviour of individuals. This has implications for democracy by compromising systems of governance. This in turn highlights the need for collaboration between multiple interdisciplinary actors to ‘protect individual autonomy and collective self -determination’.
In other words, if the more gullible politicians, media personalities, and other ‘influencers’ aren’t effectively and authoritatively disabused of the notion that they are being ‘played’, how the antis’ cons are being manifested and how they might affect their actions, we will be increasingly living in an anarchic state where the only people who matter are the ones who best manipulate. They will be the virtual rulers.
Sarah Greenwood has farmed in Yorkshire all her life, has a general interest in fieldsports, but particularly in hunting. She runs a small charity working in Bosnia and Kosovo.
- The Far Right and Animal Welfare – David Laurence ( Hope Not Hate)
- Prevent Strategy in Stockport – UK Gov publication.
- Red Black Green – Paul Gravett
- A Leopard Doesn’t Change Its Spots – Irena Pejic
- Legislate or Liberate – Will Boisseau
- What Are Russian Goals with Disinformation On Social Media – Prof Steven Wilson
- RESIST, Counter Disinformation Tool Kit – UK Government Communication Service
- Disinformation and Propaganda – LIBE Committee, EU
- Would You Notice If Fake News Changed Your Behaviour? – Zack Bastick, Computers in Human Behaviour, Science Direct