Advocacy And The Internet (Part 4 Of 4)
The internet significantly influences the tactics that animal protection organizations use and the ways in which those tactics are implemented. The internet is now a mainstream part of American life, with 71% of U.S. adults accessing it on a daily basis. Social networking sites like Facebook, online petitions that automatically generate letters for campaigns, and speedy access to a large number of people via email lists are all tools unique to the internet. For animal advocates who are typically working on a shoestring budget, the internet helps level the playing field.
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According to Laura Stein, author of a 2009 study examining the role the internet plays for social movement organizations, the internet serves six major functions: 1) providing information, 2) facilitating action and mobilization, 3) supporting interaction and dialogue between movement supports and social movement organizations, 4) fostering lateral linkages (links from the organization to other information such as news, research and other organizations), 5) creative expression, and 6) fundraising.
Stein found that among the organizations she studied, most of these features were underutilized. The most utilized was providing information, with this being employed on organizational websites at a moderate to high level in only 55% of the organizations studied.
Although we know how social movement organizations are using the internet, we do not know if it is an effective tool. The internet is relatively new to social movement organizing and so studies have not yet been conducted to measure its efficacy for achieving movement goals. Though it is clear that a lot of information can be posted on websites and can reach a wide audience, it is not clear if this leads people to take action. It may be that the information directs people to ways that they can help animals.
However, there may also be a saturation effect, whereby people see animal abuse images and information so frequently that it stops affecting them. Further, spending so much time online might take away from time people would have spent engaging in other social movement activities such as volunteering, outreach, or protesting.
Because the internet is a relatively new tool, animal advocates need to be diligent to utilize it in the most effective way possible. We need to focus on its potential to disseminate information quickly and allow our social networks to grow stronger. At the same time, we also need to remember to log off and get out when needed.
Now let us know what you think. What are your experiences using the internet for animal advocacy? Is the internet a friend or foe to the animal protection work you do?
1. Pew Internet and American Life Project (2009).