L’influence, c’est plus que des likes. Le cas de « les animaux ne sont pas des choses »

Au WordCamp US à Philadelphie le week-end dernier, je présentais le cas du projet Les animaux ne sont pas des choses pour montrer que l’influence ne devait pas servir qu’à accumuler des likes et qu’on devrait plutôt chercher à rendre le monde meilleur. La vidéo où je raconte tout ça avec mon gros accent pendant que j’essaie de couper mon texte trop long est ici:

Mes diapos sont ici:

Mon texte complet est ici :

I’m Élise Desaulniers. My Twitter description says I love cows, WordPress and footnotes. That covers 99% of my life.

I’m a partner in a web development firm in Quebec, Canada where we mostly work with WordPress. I’m also a writer. I write mostly in French.

Quebec is a small market but I have more than 4,000 followers on Twitter, 1,600 on Instagram, 3000 friends on FB, a page with 10,000 followers. A few hundred people visit my blog everyday even though I don’t post often. And I still haven’t figured out what to do with SnapChat.

My klout score is higher than 70.

I don’t know if it’s still the case but when Klout was at his peak in 2012, you could monetize your “influence” by getting room upgrades and perks. I think I got a bottle of shampoo and cat food.

Anyways, now that Adblock is blocking ads, advertisers are looking for influencers. The influencers marketing “gold rush” is coming. Everybody’s talking about it. Even in WordCamps.
Over the past few years, influence has become a synonym of marketing. Each one of us is like a marketing channel.
I guess I could still use my influence to get VIP invites to restaurants and free stuff. That would be nice.

But the question is it that the best use I can make of my influence ?

There is a whole field of research dedicated to thinking about questions like that, it’s called ethics.

One of the most renown ethician is the australian Philosopher Peter Singer. Philosophers like to play with “thoughts experiments”. There is one of those thought experiment Singer likes to do and that is pretty famous :

Imagine that you are walking past a shallow pond when you see a small child who has fallen in and seems to be drowning. You could easily rescue the child, but your expensive new shoes would be ruined. Would it be wrong to ignore the child and walk on?

Who thinks he or she should leave the child to drown and save their shoes?

Of course, we all agree it would be wrong to put one’s shoes first.

Singer points out that by donating the value of our shoes to a charity that protects children in developing countries from malaria, diarrhea, or inadequate nutrition, we can all save a child’s life. For instance, if you give only $100 to the Against Malaria Foundation, you protect 60 people from malaria for three to four years.

Peter Singer is an advocate for effective altruism.

Effective altruism encourages individuals to consider all causes and actions, and then act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact, based on their values.
Reducing suffering is important. It is much more important than keeping nice shoes or being VIP at restaurant.

If our goal is to reduce suffering, we should fight against poverty in the developing world. But there’s also a lot of suffering among animals, especially in factory farms. There is more than 150 billion animal slaughtered every year for food. Efforts to reduce factory farming, for instance by reducing global meat consumption seems to be cost-effective way of reducing current global suffering.

This is me with cows in at VINE, a farm sanctuary in Vermont. VINE Sanctuary offers refuge to animals who have been rescued from the meat, dairy and egg industries This is an amazing place, like a WordCamp for animals.

Anyways, I’ve been working on animal ethics for a few years and written three books on the topic. I spend a lot of time thinking of ways to be an effective activist.

One night, – it was in 2014 – I was having drinks with two friends and we were discussing the fact that a group of people was trying to change the legal status of animals in the French Civil Code. We decided we should try to do the same in Quebec where we live. In Quebec, like in France, the civil code is the cornerstone of our legal system.

Until recently, animals were considered things in the Quebec Civil Code. Both couches and pigs were considered » to be movable property. From a legal standpoint, animals had the same rights as a pair of shoes. This opened the door to inhumane practices.

Oh. This is Esther. I don’t know about her klout but she has almost 1 million followers on Facebook. She was adopted by a Toronto couple in 2012. They taught she was a mini pig. It was a mistake as you can see. She still live with her dads and has her own queen-size bed.

Esther knows how to open the fridge door and she has her favorite meals. But she’s a thing in regards to the law, just like a couch. And she’s probably the happiest pig in Canada. While she lays on a couch, millions of other pigs are used as simple means to produce meat and kept in horrible conditions.

This could change but we needed to raise awareness on the topic. We created a simple site in a few hours. We decided it would be a manifesto. Not a petition on sites such as change.org or a through the official government petition service because we wanted to control our branding, explain the issue and own the email addresses to build a community.

The site was made bilingual—French and English with Polylang. I consider it the best multilingual plugin when you have simple needs like we did.

Signatures were gathered by the Participant Database plugin. Participant database is a great plugin for these kind of needs with all the built-in tools you need. It’s super flexible, has a shortcode for inserting sign-up forms into WordPress pages and posts. It also has a shortcode for displaying the list of signatories.

There are dozens of petitions and manifestos out there and we had to stand out and gain credibility. We contacted a bunch of people in the media, academia and entertainment and asked for their endorsement. Before the official launch of the petition, we already had 30 signatures of celebrities. Not a bunch of activists wanting to change the Québec civil code. It was 30 celebrities.

This decision was key in getting media attention.

We first gave the the scoop to a major paper, then we sent our news release on newswires.

We had more media requests than we were expecting. Journalists were shocked by the image of animals having the same legal rights as a toaster and were curious.

And of course, we got more signatures.
A few hours after the launch, we already had 5000 signatures. That night, we were featured in the evening news. We got hundreds of connexions at the same time and, of course, our host panicked. That night, we were happy not to be on a cheap $2.99 hosting plan. The Legal status of animal was a door opener to discuss conditions in which we raise and kill the animals we exploit.

So we were there, with a working website, a bunch of signatures, media coverage, a growing Facebook community. What could we do?

We emailed our signatories to give them an update, encourage them to invite their friends to sign the manifesto. Also, we checked if any had experience with lobbying. We got many weird replies but a few professionals offered help.

But everything went faster than we were expecting.

About 8 months after the launch of our site, we were learned through the media that the minister of agriculture wanted to change the law. He quickly introduced a bill that used the wording of our manifesto and suggested that animals would be considered as sentient beings. I can’t tell you how excited we were. We had more drinks.

There have been hearings at the National Assembly where various groups could explain their concerns and all went quickly. Within a few months, the law was changed.

The government even ran an ad campaign that reads, “he’s not a piece of furniture anymore.’ But let’s be honest. The new legislation does not change much for animals in their daily life. It’s a symbolic change. Only time will tell us if animals have better protection under this new law

But all the conversations we had about animal welfare did change something. The animals are not objects project opened the door to discuss broader issues related to the treatment of animals.

It’s easy to close our eyes on those issues but as soon as we start thinking about it, we see there’s something wrong and it’s hard not to do anything.

More and more people chose not to eat meat or reduce meat consumption. More and more people are aware of the terrible conditions in which animals are raised and killed. They understand that if animals are sensitive beings, it’s hard to justify treating them like simple means of production.

On a personal level, working for something bigger than me, using my time and influence for the greater good gave more pleasure than room upgrades and free stuff.

If we tell our friends to watch this new series on Netflix, many will do. If we write a post reviewing the best multilingual plugins, many people will base their choice on our experience and recommendations.

But we can use our influence to make the world better. And we should.

I told you about this small project and little success we had with a simple website and a few plugins. But this is not what I want you to take away from this talk. I want you to remember we can use our time, money and influence to make the world better.

I used mine to change the laws. But you can use yours in many other ways that will save lives and reduce suffering.

Research shows that by spreading the word around us on the good things we do, we influence people in doing the same.

If each one of us is a marketing channel, each one of us can take action to make the world a better place.

Just like we would not hesitate to ruin a pair of shoes to save a drowning kid, we should use our time, money and influence for the greater good.

There is a few sites you can check if you want to take your first steps in effective altruism. Most of them are made with WordPress.

80 000 hours is based on 5 years of research and helps you find a career that has an impact on others. 80 000 hours is a lot of hours. This is the number of hours you will work in your life.

Givewell helps you optimize the money you spend on charities. They list a few charities that truly demonstrate impact.

Animal Charity Evaluator does the same for animal charities

The life you can save is based on Peter Singer’s book and summarizes it. One of the big ideas of the book is if well spent, $1000 can save a human life.