Is PETA effective?

"The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?" - Jeremy Bentham
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RyanCarey
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Is PETA effective?

Post by RyanCarey » Fri Apr 13, 2012 5:40 am

http://www.vegansoapbox.com/is-peta-effective/

I won't pre-empt your thoughts...
You can read my personal blog here: CareyRyan.com

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: Is PETA effective?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Apr 15, 2012 2:28 pm

Here are some thoughts on PETA that I wrote last summer to a friend (edited slightly for readability):
On PETA generally, my sentiments are mixed. I think many of the stunts they do can be off-putting to people who aren't already supportive. At least that was my experience before I realized that animal welfare was an important issue. But I'm the kind of person who is in general skeptical of flashy, non-intellectual campaigns, so I'm not sure how it plays out in the public as a whole. That said, I do know that lots of people dislike PETA.

On the other hand, PETA does do some pretty good work in a few areas. The CAK campaign is one example. They've also helped publicize in vitro meat. And when I was at Swarthmore, I spent a year on a "Committee for Investor Responsibility," in which one of my activities was to coordinate with someone at PETA on supporting a shareholder resolution around more humane chicken slaughter. So, as is the case with many animal organizations (e.g, HSUS), I think PETA's employees have better priorities than the way things appear from the outside. (Sad that it sometimes has to be that way in order to get donations....)

Of course, as I mentioned on Felicifia, I wouldn't donate to PETA -- not just because their bad public image can sometimes hurt the cause, but also because they spend lots of resources on very marginal concerns (zoos, circuses, etc.). Vegan Outreach and The Humane League are way more effective per dollar, I would guess.
One recent example of what was probably a bad move on PETA's part was its Mario Kills Tanooki campaign: "By wearing Tanooki, Mario is sending the message that it's OK to wear fur." You can see lots of Youtube replies complaining about this. For example, from the description text of one such video: "PETA is an organization I probably would support... If they weren't so freaking insane." From the audio of another video at 1:59: "Thus, no one actually gives a shit about saving animals, because they think, oh shit, everyone that wants to save animals is a fuckin lunatic. Hell, let's go out and buy some damn KFC!" These seem to be general sentiments in response to many of PETA's antics. It should be noted that PETA responded the next day to say, "Mario fans: Relax! PETA's game was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, a fun way to call attention to a serious issue, that raccoon dogs are skinned alive for their fur." Still, for those who missed this message, the damage was done.

Some of PETA's games are better. For example, Super Chick Sisters isn't so absurd, and there are well-written (if sometimes exaggerated) messages throughout the game play about treatment of chickens: That birds can sometimes be scalded while conscious during defeathering, that McDonalds has so far refused to move toward CAK, and so on. However, I do worry when organizations single out an individual company as evil (McDonalds, KFC, etc.), because this might just lead people to buy chicken elsewhere (e.g., Wendy's, Subway, the supermarket) and think that all has been solved. Single-company pressure is useful as a campaign but not as a way to promote vegetarianism. In any event, Super Chick Sisters seems to be a successful game -- e.g., you can find it on lots of regular gaming websites -- but I don't know how much money was spent to make it, and it seems plausible that other uses of the money could have accomplished more.

Now, as far as RyanCarey's article: The HRC investigations look interesting, and perhaps I'll try to find the full studies. That said, it's easy to imagine a fair amount of bias in the numbers due to which people were asked which questions.

However, the final paragraph seems way overgeneralized:
Neither of those studies indicates that the other PETA programs are effective. It’s even possible that certain campaigns are counter-productive. But the evidence against PETA – on the basis of ineffectiveness – simply doesn’t exist yet. So be wary of “experts” who claim that PETA “doesn’t work” or is “counter-productive.” They are likely basing their opinions on personal bias rather than actual science.
Sure, many PETA programs are probably great, but others are not, and some may be actively harmful.

Che Green pointed to a blog post of his own in the comments of the article. I agree with most of what he says, including:
When it comes to media tactics, PETA clearly goes with whatever will attract attention and they throw everything they have at the press. If something sticks, PETA counts it as a victory regardless whether the media coverage is positive or negative; if it doesn’t stick, then they simply move on to the next idea. [...]

Of course, no animal protection group does everything right, but most of the large ones are at least willing to evaluate their own efforts. [...] I would argue that it’s time for some new approaches and I would say this to the good folks at PETA: “Thank you for the work you have done for animals. But please understand that not all media is created equally. On behalf of animal advocates everywhere, please take a more thoughtful approach to generating attention. As the most visible animal rights group in the world, we need you to help us become a credible and respected voice for animals.”

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Daniel Dorado
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Re: Is PETA effective?

Post by Daniel Dorado » Sun Apr 15, 2012 8:03 pm

My favorite PETA campaing is "Holocaust on Your Plate". Polemic, but hardcore anti-speciesist too.

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: Is PETA effective?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Apr 15, 2012 8:18 pm

I visited the Dachau memorial museum in Jan 2012, and I was struck by how many parts of what I saw reminded me of factory farming: The living conditions, obviously, but also the fact that the local population was indifferent/oblivious to the suffering in much the same was as many people are indifferent/oblivious to factory farms. One wall picture said that prisoners were transported in train cars built for coal or cattle. Maybe cows are a bit more resistant to the cold than are primates, but the description seemed to miss the irony about what that implied for the cattle. The tour guide said that during the human experiments, the prisoners were literally called "guinea pigs," again missing the point about what that says about actual guinea pigs.

Several leaders in the animal movement are Jews inspired by the Holocaust. So I find it odd that there's such a huge backlash against comparing factory farming to the Holocaust. While it's certainly true that parts of the situation are different, so many parts are the same as well. I suspect that even if most critics don't say it, the negative reaction is largely due to speciesism rather than other claimed nuances.

The Wikipedia piece says, "In July 2010, the German Federal Constitutional Court ruled that PETA's campaign was not protected by free speech laws, and banned it within Germany as an offense against human dignity.[19]" Uggh. :oops:

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: Is PETA effective?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Apr 22, 2012 6:39 pm

From "'Pink Slime' controversy stokes clash over agriculture":
While People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is better known for its anti-fur campaign and headline-grabbing antics, no activist group is more loathed by the agricultural community than the Humane Society of the United States.

Agribusiness lobbyists have written to companies sympathetic to the group, asking them to halt donations. In recent months, pick-up trucks across the nation's Corn Belt have started sporting bumper stickers that tell the Humane Society and PETA to "get your paws off our laws."

"It is HSUS and its issues that truly deserve our attention because of the threat they pose to our society," a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Farm Bureau wrote in a 2007 editorial in the High Plains Journal. "Laugh at PETA but fear HSUS." [emphasis added]

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spindoctor
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Re: Is PETA effective?

Post by spindoctor » Thu May 03, 2012 1:43 am

In response to Alan's point about PETA spending a hugely disproportionate amount of their effort on marginal causes like circus animals: I do think you need to remember the extremely powerful effect of these charismatic animals on galvanizing the support of animal lovers. A while ago I did some fundraising for a WWF-type organisation during a holiday job, and it was jaw-dropping to see how people would open their wallets when you cited the plight of the endangered snow leopards or baby seals (or, interestingly, songbirds kidnapped from the rainforest and shipped back to Britain for sale as rare pets). PETA could be justified using circus elephants as sort of gateway drugs that entice people to also care about chickens and pigs.

As far as the broader issue goes, determining whether PETA's headline-grabbing antics do more harm than good is a really difficult question to answer; it really needs empirical research, speculation won't decide the question. On the one hand, clearly the PR value of PETA's antics are important for building awareness; on the other, the blog post that Alan linked has a good point: the AR movement does need to grow up and start "wearing a suit" in order to better engage with governments and be taken seriously (a little like the LGBT movement has).

On balance my inclination is to say that it could probably moderate its most out-there, batshit insane campaigns without compromising its high profile. I'm all for the naked lady calendars and "hottest vegan" and groovy arcade games; I think they got away with Holocaust on Your Plate; what I would drop is the sort of cynical, trolling type of stuff -- asking Ben and Jerry's to serve breastmilk instead of cow milk; asking Pet Shop Boys to change their name. People take PETA at their word when they say they want to serve breastmilk, and it does entrench this meme that AR people are extremist nutcases.

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Re: Is PETA effective?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Thu May 03, 2012 1:35 pm

Thanks, spindoctor.
spindoctor wrote:PETA could be justified using circus elephants as sort of gateway drugs that entice people to also care about chickens and pigs.
Yes, you're right. I think the same is true for HSUS: Most of their donations come because of cats, dogs, horses, seals, etc., but then the more enlightened people who work at the organization direct some of those funds to projects of greater numerical importance (like chickens). People sometimes complain when organizations raise money for one purpose and use the funds for another purpose, but in general, it's often a good thing, because the employees of the charity have a better sense of what's cost-effective than do the donors.

Of course, this gateway-drug argument doesn't apply to us. We can give directly to The Humane League, Vegan Outreach, etc. that don't have this overhead of spending on cute animals.
spindoctor wrote: On balance my inclination is to say that it could probably moderate its most out-there, batshit insane campaigns without compromising its high profile.
It could also moderate its campaigns to the public without having to moderate its fundraising appeals.

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Re: Is PETA effective?

Post by Michael Dickens » Sun May 06, 2012 11:26 pm

It seems like it would be simple enough to collect some empirical data on how PETA has affected people. A simple survey should suffice:

Do you think the animal rights movement has credibility?

Has PETA lessened the credibility of the animal rights movement in your eyes?

Have any of PETA's advertisements caused you to consider treating animals better?

Perhaps the questions could do with some refinement, but that's the gist of it.

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Re: Is PETA effective?

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun May 06, 2012 11:39 pm

MTGandP wrote: A simple survey should suffice:
Yes, that would help establish the sign of the impact. Then there's also the question of opportunity cost: How well could PETA have done with the same resources? (This is only slightly complicated by the fact that "how many resources it had later on" depended on "how well it raised money and supporters in the early years.")

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