Advantages Of Emotion-Based Digital Advocacy In A Neoliberal Context
In neoliberal nations such as the U.S. and Australia, the individual is often emphasized over the collective. In studies of neoliberal nations, researchers note that the appreciation of free markets and self-regulating economies often causes media to portray those who advocate on behalf of animals and the environment as people who intend to hurt human interests and the economy. In fact, many of these countries have “ag-gag” laws set up to prosecute activists whose actions may cause losses in profits for companies that benefit from damaging animals and the environment. In the worst cases, advocates for compassion and conservation are branded as domestic terrorists.
To reach individuals of the public and engage them about their concerns, advocates often depend on appealing to their emotions. Although this strategy falls in line with neoliberalism in one sense (it targets individual consumers), it deviates from it by relying on community-building and collective action. This paper, published in Media International Australia, analyzes the emotion-based digital campaign strategy of the large Australian non-profit animal welfare organization Animals Australia and discusses it as a case study.
The researchers note that, although some may see social media campaigns and engagement as less useful than offline efforts, online advocacy is important because it can effectively raise public awareness about an issue, show policymakers that many people do care about that issue, and build a community of people who may act in response to it. Likewise, appealing to emotions in a way that leaves a relatively long-lasting impression on the audience is a way to create solidarity among people and mobilize them. These appeals are especially effective when presented with a meaningful visual (such as an animal suffering from cruelty) along with a concrete action that can be taken.
For example, Animals Australia’s Make it Possible campaign uses pictures and videos which anthropomorphize animals and emphasize both their individuality and undeserved suffering. They also give viewers a way to not feel personally blamed by encouraging the narrative that they are fundamentally compassionate people who simply had not previously been made fully aware of the evils of factory farming. The campaign encourages people to post their own reactions to the videos on social media, and thousands have.
Content analysis by the researchers found that the most common responses included “sickness, horror, disgust, anger, sadness, shock and being brought to tears.” Additionally, many reaction videos contain allusions to the poster’s past feelings of compassion towards animals, indicating that the campaigns had successfully reaffirmed their existing feelings and beliefs.
Overall, social movements that support animals and the environment would do well to use the internet in a way that promotes online participation from members of the public and leaves individuals with the emotional motivation encouraging them to act on behalf of the cause. Online campaigns should be set up to allow viewers to like, share, and respond in a way that personalizes their connection to the campaign. In this way, social movements can create a strong network of supporters who care. In many ways, this type of advocacy is ideally suited to a neoliberal context, where community can be built through connecting networks of individuals.