One of the first animal rights posts I ever saw on the Internet was a shockingly dehumanizing image that compared the factory farming of pigs to the Holocaust. It showed Jewish people behind barbed-wire fences in a concentration camp, juxtaposed with an image of pigs in squalid conditions. The caption read, “I don’t see a difference.”
This tasteless comparison resurfaces every once in a while among the more extreme factions of animal rights groups. My introduction to this activism was characterized by shock tactics. This first experience with the animal rights movement coloured my view of any future activism the community undertook, no matter how positive it might be.
Currently, the Internet is undergoing a love affair with call-out culture, a form of social justice in which people are expected to confront others when they say something that is homophobic, racist, transphobic, misogynistic, etc.
If you aren’t a feminist, you could be introduced to feminism by reading an article by a self-proclaimed feminist arguing that men cannot be raped or sexually assaulted, or caustically attacking men in some other way. These opinions are not necessarily popular within the feminist community as a whole, and it’s understandable why many non-feminists react with contempt.
The Internet ensures an us versus them mentality, and we begin to associate these communities solely with self-righteous indignation. We construct a narrative where our communities are pitted against the fringe opinions of other communities.
The main issue with this call-out culture trend is that if you aren’t immersed in a specific community, the only actions you see from that community are the call outs, and the only people you see are those offended enough to speak up. We see only the fringe, reactionary elements of activism, not the core of the community itself.
Call-out culture certainly has positive effects — it often shifts traditional power dynamics and provides meaningful platforms to silenced groups. However, one of the unfortunate side effects is that we are exposed to ideas at the outskirts of social justice movements and not the ideas at their heart.
These call outs might be a fad of Internet culture, but they’re valuable because bigoted people deserve to be called out. Although awareness is an often-mocked aspect of social justice, it is necessary. Call-out culture can, however, bring the equally dangerous and bigoted fringes of social crusades to the forefront of our social consciousness.
The Internet brings fringe activists to the centre in a way that other mediums don’t. We obsess over fringe activism and circulate it around and around, obsessing over details, marveling at how awful and outlandish these particular opinions are.
An antagonistic introduction can destroy the good intentions underneath any movement. These vicious introductions ensure that every time you brush up against a controversial topic, the remnants of its call-out culture are brought to the forefront by our obsession with the awful and the outlandish.
The animal rights activism I encountered was racist and tactless, but everyday animal rights activists are often kind and compassionate people who, while passionate about the issue, approach it with respect for the opinions and troubles of others.
We shouldn’t simply dismiss fringe activism, this co-opting of legitimate social justice movements to push radical ideas. These are dangerous ideas and they can do real harm. They should be condemned with the full weight of our communities.
But we can’t be obsessed with the language of call-out culture at the expense of social change. Antagonistic introductions breed distrust and hostility between communities where the majority of people in both groups are working to dismantle larger oppressive power structures.
The medium affects the message. And when the message is that every community you’re not a part of is filled with dangerous and harmful ideas, I don’t like to think about what that makes the medium.