My experience talking to people within animal advocacy is that PETA tends to be seen as more embarrassing than effective — a mishmash of campaigns that end up making the animal movement seem gimmicky, without much in the way of clear impact.
But how many people see the articles? Say about a million people saw their silly article, and only 1% of people actually stuck around their website and learn more about veganism with the rest brushing it off as ridiculous. That’s ten thousand people who just might reduce their consumption of animal products and will consider buying vegan alternatives, which will influence their friends, families, and market forces alike. I’d say that’s a win for the animal rights movement. Would they have gotten that same level of effect if they did something that wasn’t silly?
As someone who is very concerned with animal wellbeing, every person reducing meat consumption is a massive positive.
Make no mistake, I don’t agree with some of what PETA does (they’ve done some things I find to be counterproductive; As I’ve said, you shouldn’t overstep the line) but from what I know they have a pretty small marketing budget, and they’re making the most of it.
Yes, easily!There are lots of human feelings you can successfully reach aside from “anger” or “(eats popcorn)”. Controversial content sometimes sells, but so does other content!
There are lots of human feelings you can successfully reach aside from “anger” or “(eats popcorn)”. Controversial content sometimes sells, but so does other content!
I did say that it is possible to be non-controversial and reach a large audience (I’m sure it wasn’t your intention, but you sort of made it look like I didn’t say that).
My point was controversy usually gives people a bigger chance of being recognized. Internet algorithms favor what people find interesting, and most people find controversial interesting (even if they don’t agree with it). If you’re already recognized it’s not really necessary to be uncontroversial if you don’t want to, but if you’re really striving for that media attention (and thus reaching millions of people), people want something that’ll really strike emotions. Either that, or be amusing in some way (Tim Urban’s blog is a good example, of a fun to read format).
I should also add that sometimes just saying controversial things is useful (such as EA’s defending of Sweatshops; I’ve seen so many people, who, even after being explained to why Sweatshops are beneficial to people in developing countries, just reject the message).
I think the problem with the Effective Altruism and Animal Rights movements is, a lot of people don’t think of those things as “cool” necessarily. I think the informal, in-your-face approach is very useful for dispelling that idea, while I find the continued diplomatic and compromising might not reach that 10% of people that being controversial would..
I think probably the best example of a controversial activist (and, I would argue, the most effective of our time in terms of good done) is Gary Yourofsky. I have so many criticisms of that guy, but you can’t deny that the man got results. After one of his speeches went viral, not only did it spread all over the internet amassing tens of millions of views, but it went viral in Israel, and it’s credited with converting roughly 10% of their population to veganism/vegetarianism. This is thought to be because he compared factory harms to the Holocaust (which is extremely controversial) which resonated with the Jewish population there and made them reconsider their lifestyles.
It’s all something to consider, anyway. One thing I’m certain of in activism is avoiding pseudoscience (doesn’t look like that’s really a problem in EA but in veganism it’s just about everywhere), but as far as methods go, I’ll go with anything that works. I don’t see any good reason to believe being an asshole would be guaranteed harm for these movements.
There was a great article I read a few years back about the usefulness of being an asshole, but I can’t find it now, unfortunately.
I was responding literally to your question: “Can a person going with a nice-guy approach really have the same impact as someone being controversial?”
My best attempt to interpret your view was something like “non-controversial content can work, but controversial content is almost always better”. My response was to point out that the most successful communicators of EA have typically been “non-controversial” in their delivery, even if some of EA’s core ideas are inherently radical. I hope that I spoke to your intended point, and I’m sorry if I didn’t.
A few possible responses to this:
If the goal is to eventually have almost everyone go meatless, there’s some value in pushing a message that more people respond to in the long term. Having 10% of the population go meatless for 20 years < having 50% go meatless for 5 years.
This model is clearly oversimplified, as a set of initial supporters might help to convert others — but on the other hand, if you can get a lot of people to spread a message in their “local” setting, shouldn’t that message be the one that works on the highest percentage of people, because total reach isn’t as much of a concern?
The math here is complicated and entirely hypothetical, which means that the more convincing point (to me) is:
Whichever supporters respond to your messaging are the supporters you end up with.
If your brand is controversy, drama, and snark, you get a lot of people who enjoy controversy, drama, and snark.
If your brand is positive, welcoming, and low-key, you get some smaller number of people who will tend to be more positive, welcoming, and low-key.
Some movements might prefer the former, others the latter. Based on my extremely limited knowledge of the history of social movements, long-term success seems like it usually comes from the latter, since movements built on the former tend to fracture and fragment as they grow. (But I’m well outside my expertise here.)
EA, in particular, has a fairly deliberate strategy of trying to recruit people who have a natural tendency toward compassion + “taking numbers seriously”, and being wary of the kinds of audiences we can bring in through overconfidence or an appeal to negative emotions. This may have reduced the movement’s numerical growth rate, but at the same time, I’m extremely happy with the people who have been drawn to it so far, many of whom came in explicitly because EA stood out from the crowded field of “social movements using controversy to persuade”.
A related story: I was a semi-professional Twitch streamer throughout 2020. I purposefully avoided discussing the day’s biggest video game-related controversies during my streams.
This may have lost me the chance to have a clip go viral, and my audience never reached the size of the audience for the most infamously controversial streamers — but at the same time, my chat was noticeably more productive (in terms of e.g. strategic discussion) and required almost no moderation. And when I surveyed my audience, many of them said they explicitly enjoyed the stream because it was low-key and avoided drama. Had I tried to compete by offering my own hot takes, I don’t know that I’d have wound up with as much success as I had (that’s a crowded field, too).
I should also add that sometimes just saying controversial things is useful (such as EA’s defending of sweatshops; I’ve seen so many people, who, even after being explained to why sweatshops are beneficial to people in developing countries, just reject the message).
Isn’t this the opposite of the point you were making? If people tend to reject a message after hearing it, that’s an argument against using the message. (Unless you left out the part about the message winning over some of the people who hear it in a lasting way; personally, I don’t think I’ve met anyone in EA for whom that message was especially important.)
After one of his speeches went viral, not only did it spread all over the internet amassing tens of millions of views, but it went viral in Israel, and it’s credited with converting roughly 10% of their population to veganism/vegetarianism.
Credited by whom?
The numbers I found after a quick search indicate that fewer than 10% of Israelis claim to be vegetarian, and self-reported vegetarianism is often inflated (either by survey response bias or by people who are confused about whether e.g. fish counts as meat).
The Hebrew version of the video has just over a million views, which would be 1⁄8 of Israel’s population. (Some may have seen the English-language version, but non-Israelis may have watched the Hebrew version.)
If roughly 10% of the country’s population went vegetarian because of the video, this implies that the prior rate of vegetarianism was almost 0, and that almost every person who saw the video made a permanent change to their diets. I don’t find either of these claims plausible.
Of course, even with a much lower success rate, the video could still have been a very useful tool — perhaps a win for the pro-controversy side! But I end up not knowing what to think.
Also, I should emphasize that none of this has anything to do with my opinions about your content — I’m more focused on the general argument at hand, which comes up a lot. I think you should make whatever videos you feel like making (while trying to figure out whether people are responding in the way you’d hope).
My best attempt to interpret your view was something like “non-controversial content can work, but controversial content is almost always better”.
Right, that’s what I was saying.
My response was to point out that the most successful communicators of EA have typically been “non-controversial” in their delivery, even if some of EA’s core ideas are inherently radical.
EA as a movement isn’t a particularly mainstream thing (unlike Veganism, which is moreso). I think it’d be interesting to see how a less diplomatic figure in the community spreads the message.
If the goal is to eventually have almost everyone go meatless, there’s some value in pushing a message that more people respond to in the long term. Having 10% of the population go meatless for 20 years < having 50% go meatless for 5 years.This model is clearly oversimplified, as a set of initial supporters might help to convert others — but on the other hand, if you can get a lot of people to spread a message in their “local” setting, shouldn’t that message be the one that works on the highest percentage of people, because total reach isn’t as much of a concern?
I’m arguing that total reach is a primary concern. I must be missing your point here.
Is that a bad thing? The snarky in your face people tend to be the types who post and share snarky memes that, once again, will reach many people (much like Vegan Sidekick, although he’s unfortunately drank the antinatalist Kool-Aid, which hurts his activism).
Isn’t this the opposite of the point you were making? If people tend to reject a message after hearing it, that’s an argument against using the message.
My point was no matter how nice you are, some messages are just out of the envelope that your approach to it isn’t as relevant. I don’t think the same standard applies to veganism or effective altruism as a whole however.
Of course, and that’s why we need the diplomatic types.
Sure, and I dig that, but I don’t want EA to be restricted to just the super-compassionate types. I want more people to partake in it, even if they aren’t donating 90% of their income. Which is better, one hundred thousand giving 20 bucks a month or one thousand people giving 2000 bucks a month? It’s the same amount, but I think it’s a lot more difficult to find those 2000 dollar people than getting one hundred thousand people who aren’t at charitable. Maybe I’m wrong though.
RE: Yourofsky, I was highlighting how his controversial strategy helped start the wave of veg over there (even he claims he can’t take all the credit, but it served as a starter for the activists). Still difficult to argue with those results.
Nae bother, I actually these discussions are important to have. I also have a few non-Youtube related endeavors I hope to be materialized, but YouTube I find is important too.