It's hard not to notice the enormous amount of vile comments and cringy arguments on social media. The topic of Veganism is no exception. Many vegans get fired up sometimes, especially when they constantly get to witness the most absurd, illogical and uninformed arguments there is or when they hear the same eye-rolling excuse over and over for the millionth time or when they get mocked by many others for their stance against consuming animal products.
I want you to know that I am fully aware of the abuse, trolling and mockery vegans face every day in social media and in the real world. In this blog, I want to shed light on something many fellow vegans might have overlooked: the way we vegans communicate with others in social media.
The following snapshots show only some of the Facebook comments I stumble upon every now and then:
What this person described in his comments is what he and many other non-vegans feel and perceive vegans as; pushy, preachy, rude and crazy to say the least. I understand that whatever you do, good or bad, people will always have something negative to say about you, that's life. People like to find the bad in people and they like to generalise based on the actions of some.
Many vegans would justify these accusations with "but that's just their conscience, they don't want to feel guilty and that's why they make excuses and say these things about us". While this might - to an extent - be true and unavoidable it doesn't negate the fact that an overwhelming number of vegans on social media are rude, insulting and belittling to others.
Below are some of the comments to a pro-vegan Facebook video. Also, notice the likes and support they get.
Sounds just like bullying to me... And who the hell wants to do what their bully says?
Articles and videos are quickly shared where hundreds or even thousands of vegans flock in to comment on every vegan related post or video to give their opinion, vent their frustration on the subject, point out non-vegans hypocrisy and crush their illogical fallacies. This is great, and I encourage you to keep doing it. There is nothing wrong with sharing, liking and commenting on these posts but it's time for us to address and question the way some of us are doing it.
I am sure you agree that the point of typing a comment and debating with other non-vegans in social media is to spread awareness and maybe convince people to go vegan, right? Well, if we really want to draw more people's attention to this cause and change that negative perception online and in the real world, then we all need to change our attitude, language and tonality.
“Most people would agree that practising integrity precludes shaming. Integrity is the integration of values (such as compassion and justice) and practices, and when we shame others, we violate such values. So, shaming others — vegans and non-vegans alike — is simply unethical”
– Dr. Melanie Joy
Vegans are some of the most passionate activists and it's no surprise that we can easily get frustrated, angry, judgmental and reactive when a non-vegan makes an argument, an excuse or mocks us, because, we know the truth is on our side. But our passion for the cause usually leads us to... Well, this...
So how do we fix this? Below I have outlined some tips and points to seriously consider before posting any comment or when debating anyone online...
1. Realise you have about zero credibility online
The difference between talking to people face to face and talking to them on social media is the fact that we have zero credibility on the internet. We are total strangers, just a random person behind our screens. Most of the time they don't know who we are, at all, so don't expect them to listen to you telling them what to do, to the point of changing something they have been doing all their life!
This anonymity and lack of immediate social feedback is the main reason why it so easy to insult, talk down and show disrespect to strangers on social media than it is face to face. (Which, ironically, most people who post like this online don't do.)
2. Show the utmost respect
Yes, that includes respecting those who disagree with us and those who mock us.
A recent survey we conducted that was taken by more than 800 vegans in Australia asked the question, directed at those who have actually convinced someone to go vegan, “How did you do it?” And the answers had a striking similarity. The top answers were: be respectful, don't be pushy, don't tell them what to do and set an example.
“If they respect you, respect them. If they disrespect you, still respect them. Do not allow the actions of others to decrease your good manners, because you represent yourself, not others.”
Next time you're about to write a comment, ask yourself: does my comment show any sign of disrespect? Does it show rudeness? Am I being nice? Am I treating them as an equal?
3. Avoid arguments
“You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non-compos mentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph... A man convinced against his will Is of the same opinion still." - Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
4. Answer their question to the best of your ability
Don’t drift off topic. Don’t assume that they know and don’t get frustrated because they don’t know about something you know more about. Yes, people still think protein can only be obtained from animals. Yes, people still think that they can’t survive without meat and lots of much weirder things. And so did I at one point.
Just because you heard these arguments a thousand times, it doesn’t make the person making them stupid and illogical. I used to think and make the same illogical points two years ago and you probably did too! And if someone back then called me cruel and uneducated I would be angry and probably be pushed away and discouraged to further explore veganism.
"Always be the vegan you wish you met before you went vegan”
Non-vegans might be uninformed on this particular subject but it is our job to educate them with facts and show them where we get our information from, which leads me to my next point...
4. Always back up what you say
As I mentioned above, no one knows who you are. You have zero credibility on Facebook and social media, so when you say things to a stranger online, you will need to back up your claim by showing them where you got that information from and how credible your source is.
The more credible and high profile your source is the more compelling your argument is. The good news is we have thousands of resources and studies to back up our claims form the largest and most known prestigious organisations and scientists from all around the world. Mentioning peer-reviewed studies from Harvard and the UN or providing a statement by a renowned scientist, best selling author or a respected doctor would add so much credibility to your argument and leave no room for others to argue against your claims and make excuses.
It is so easy to find links and references for everything. Google is your friend.
5. Don't tell them what to do
Instead of commanding and telling people what they should or should not do, why not encourage them to do their own research on it? if they don't know how to do it, then you can show them how they can do it, recommend documentaries, videos, articles, books, etc and add links for them to explore more. Especially links that don't come from fully vegan websites because some people think that information from vegan sources are only there to "push vegan propaganda down their throat!".
6. Relate to others
Sadly, some people like to categorise and label others quickly once they act differently. Many people would label vegans as judgemental, part of a cult, on a high horse, etc just because they stopped buying animal products; The fact is that the far majority of vegans are quite the opposite. The only thing that changed is that we have decided to align our moral values with our actions.
It's always a good idea to show others that we are just regular people just like them. Just because we stopped buying animal products does not make us "weirdos", "extremists" or part of a "cult" (sadly that's what some people think of us).
I usually tell people that I used to eat as much meat or even more then they could imagine (which is absolutely true), that I never thought I would become a vegan, not in a million year (also very true) until I learnt about the unnecessary cruelty and the damage to the environment and our health that animal products cause.
Even saying something simple before you start communicating your point like “I see where you coming from, I used to think the same but…” can help others relate to you more.
7. Let it Be
Last but not least, refrain from commenting if you can’t answer their questions. I remember when I first became vegan, I didn't know everything and I got caught multiple times with hard questions from friends and family that I couldn't answer properly but I always had the urge to, because I knew I was right, but because I couldn't articulate my answers properly, I swallowed my pride and didn't say anything.
It's much worse to give a misinformed or an incorrect answer than to not answer at all. Alternatively, do your homework before replying. The good thing about communicating online as opposed to in person means you can easily google any question or argument to help you come up with the best response for any situation.
If you want to improve your communication and persuasion skills and take it to the next level, then I recommend reading and watching the following:
- Read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Read Irreversibly Vegan by Benjamin McCormick. An easy to read book to increase your knowledge on veganism, it also has a whole chapter dedicated to communicating and persuading non-vegans.)
- Watch Earthling Ed's Youtube channel. Ed's street activism and the way he communicates with others is the best I’ve seen anywhere, he has a unique approach in engaging people and his videos are entertaining to watch. He also has a video explaining his effective method of communicating with non-vegan which I highly recommend everyone to watch.
Whether you realise it or not, your comments on social media is a form of activism. It is our own responsibility to ensure effective activism. We all can try our best to overshadow this negative image we have been associated with and start attracting more people to veganism by simply being respectful, kind and compassionate to all, regardless of how they are towards us.
Feel free to spread this message by sharing this article, and don’t be shy to voice your thoughts and ideas if you have any, I would love to hear them. :)