One of the most disheartening things I can do as a vegan is scroll through anti-vegan comments on a post or article. There’s so much anger, so many stupid jokes, so much misinformation. I often find myself baffled at how flippant people can be when it comes to killing animals.
I see these people as trolls but more often than not that isn’t the case. Wikipedia describes internet trolls as
“a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion, often for the troll’s amusement.”
Sure there are some people who will troll vegan websites and articles for the sake of shits and giggles, but a lot of the comments I come across are from people who vehemently believe in their right to eat meat. Pit them against vegans and sparks are bound to fly. While some of these people may display troll-like tendencies, many of them aren’t starting arguments for the sake of their own amusement. These people strongly believe in their reasons for defending their choices, even though they fail to see the hypocrisy in taking away the choices of others. Sadly for the vegans (and for the animals they speak up for), the meat eaters tend to swamp the conversation. Unfortunately, this is an accurate reflection of the world we live in; although the vegan movement is growing bigger every day, we’re still vastly outnumbered by people who just don’t seem to care.
There’s been many a time when I’ve sat at my desk, fingers poised over the keyboard, ready to fight back against people flinging bacon jokes this way and that. But I rarely engage. I have three problems with getting involved in these kinds of conversations – and I use the term conversation extremely loosely. Firstly, I generally shy away from confrontation. It’s not my happy place. Secondly, reading the comments makes me really, really angry. Angry to the point where I’m not sure I’ll say anything constructive. Thirdly, I want to know that my participation will actually be of some use. Is it actually helpful to engage an angry meat eater?
As I’ve said before, animal activism comes in many forms, but I think that knowing your audience is key to success. People digest information in very different ways. While some people may find footage from slaughterhouses horrifying, others simply become angry that such imagery is being exposed to their kids in the street. I strongly believe that people should know where their meat comes from, but I also know that certain methods of activism will send people screaming back into their shells. That’s not to say it doesn’t work, it’s just that different tactics work on different people.
So if someone is posting anti-vegan memes, and joking about their delicious bacon, is it worth trying to engage them in conversation? Are they likely to take on board anything you say or will you end up wasting energy on someone who’s head is buried so deep in the sand you’d need a digger or two to yank them out. Should you just fire back jokes of your own and hope to land some points? Or should you ignore the inane drivel that some people spout, and refuse to rise to their petty comments?
I don’t know what the right answer is. I want to engage in reasoned conversation, but I think that’s hard when trying to advocate for veganism. Emotions run high, and it’s tough to stay calm with someone when they want to argue their right to kill and eat animals when you strongly believe that an animal has a right to life. We need to speak up for those who can’t, and we have to raise our voices above the programmed chorus that attempt to drown out the truth. For the most part I think that reasoned conversation can be the only way to go or we’re at risk of descending into poo flinging competitions. If we’re going to be flinging anything then I think it should be facts.