I’m an ethical vegan and an animal rights activist, so my stance on the narrative in documentaries such as Blackfish, Earthlings, Cowspiracy and The Cove will contain bias. Throughout this blog, I’m going to attempt to detach from the ideologies that consume my everyday life and look beyond the message of animal activist documentaries to focus on how the narrative structure influences humans as a whole.

Animals have long since dominated our lives: in our homes, throughout social media and especially on screen. Raising awareness about their abuses in a documentary can be confronting for most people. In relation to the narrative and structure of animal activism documentaries, how does the media influence our ethical opinions towards animal abuse and our stance in the animal rights movement and what is the best possible approach to this? 

We’ve all talked to our animals like humans at some point in our lives. In fact, I’ve done it to the point where my cat thinks she IS human. So is our relationship with animals at home the same or similar to that of a documentary when the narrative structure defines ‘nonhuman animals as morally relevant victims, animal rights activists as heroes, and animal exploiters as villains? (Freeman and Tulloch, 2013) This specific technique used in animal activism documentaries is called anthropomorphising animals. It is when animals are made to appear to have human attributes, which characterises them. For example, Tilikum the orca in ‘Blackfish’ and Tyke the elephant in ‘Tyke Elephant Outlaw’. Perhaps the reason documentaries present animals as humans is because the only way we can mentally picture their suffering is if we picture them as ourselves. Freeman (2010) agrees, arguing ‘the paradox for animal rights is that it needs to emphasise similarities between human and nonhuman animals in order to deconstruct the dualistic thinking that separates and privileges humans, yet one must also respect diversity found across the species spectrum.’


“In 1994, an elephant named Tyke gave her last circus performance. By the time the dust settled, a trainer was dead, 13 people were injured, and Tyke herself had been shot almost 100 times and killed.”

It sounds selfish of the human species to pity an animal only because it has been portrayed as a human. Therefore, if the activists are already willing to watch the documentary, how do documentary makers target the other percentage of the human population? , Scudder et al. (2010) examined the impact of a graphic animal rights campaign launched by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) against alleged abuses on a corporate farm. The results found that there wasn’t necessarily an impact on pre-existing values of the food-processing industry but more of an act of respect and ‘credibility’ for PETA. This means the media influences our ethical opinions through the credibility of the existing organisation. Credibility can come from a wide range of areas: posters, advertisements, short videos, protests, documentaries and celebrity support.


PHOTO: An example of the ads appearing on the back of some Coffs Harbour buses

Keeping this in mind, we must look at this from the perspective of the activists making the documentaries. Freeman and Tulloch (2013) narrow the media’s intentions down to three points:

1) thrusting clandestine spaces of animal cruelty onto the public screen and exerting a reverse panopticon pressure on industries;

2) challenging the human/animal dualism, the violent hierarchy it justifies, and the (imagined) humane self-image of society; and

3) serving as a critical rhetoric that constructs dissonance-producing antagonisms, (dis)identification, and legitimacy of the movement.


Beyond the activist’s campaign goals there needs to be a larger motive in terms of the world viewing animals as ourselves. Narrowing it down to a specific species is chipping away at the colossal glacier of animal rights, but not fast enough.

“Right now I’m focusing on that one little body of water, where that slaughter takes place. If we can’t stop that, if we can’t fix that, forget about the bigger issues. There’s no hope.”

-Ric O’Barry, The Cove


Packwood Freeman, C (2010). “Embracing Humanimality: Deconstructing the Human/Animal Dichotomy.” Greg Goodale and Jason Edward Black, Eds. Arguments about Animal Ethics. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, [online] Available at: http://works.bepress.com/carrie_freeman/2/

Packwood Freeman, C. and Tulloch, S. (2013). Was Blind but Now I See: Animal Liberation Documentaries’ Deconstruction of Barriers to Witnessing Injustice. OxfordScreening Nature: Cinema Beyond the Human. [online] Available at: http://works.bepress.com/carrie_freeman/13/.

Scudder, J. and Mills, C. (2009). The credibility of shock advocacy: Animal rights attack messages. Public Relations Review, 35(2), pp.162-164.





When we think of hacking, we have an instant negative reaction. You’d be forgiven for thinking this, as society deems the word ‘hack’ as bad. However, hacktivism is being carried out as a way to claim back the distributed network. With the digital era continually advancing there is evidence of limited control in the hacking world. The question is whether or not it is being used by the right people.

An example showing both a negative use of hacking and a positive is an article by renowned hactivists, Anonymous that claims ‘Edward Snowden Says One Text Can Hack Smartphones’. The post shows Snowden’s knowledge of the Government’s alleged techniques to spy on citizens.  It is evident in this blog that the hacker subculture can be used in different forms- control/ power, anarchism, resistance, playfulness and activism. In Snowden’s case he uses it as a response of political activism vs. Government control/ power.

However, this is not to say that playful forms of hacking don’t have negative responses. This year the world saw the infamous Avid Life Media’s website Ashley Madison, hacked. This resulted in personal account information like e-mail addresses from 32 million of the site’s members being revealed online. These attackers are the whistle-blowers of the public sphere, bringing moral resistance to the forefront. They claimed they had two motivations behind the hacking scandal, first criticizing ‘Ashley Madison’s core mission of arranging affairs between married individuals. Second, they’ve attacked Ashley Madison’s business practices, in particular its requirement that users pay $19 for the privilege of deleting all their data from the site (but, as it turns out, not all data was scrubbed).’


Both these examples are evidence of the power that new technological advancement is threatening censorship and online regulation. When we compare the two forms of hacking what do we see? We see new networking models being developed. Benkler (2011) says these examples force us to ‘ask us how comfortable we are with the actual shape of democratization created by the Internet.’

This is true, hactivists are showing a new form of political resistance. They are contributing to a world where internet censorship could be non-existent. The thought of this world is scary, yet thrilling and the more it exposed the greater the support from the community it will receive.


Benkler, Y. (2011) ‘A free irresponsible press: Wikileaks and the battle over the soul of the networked fourth estate’, [pp. 1-33]


In Australia we believe we are living in a comfortable, democratic society and find it hard to comprehend otherwise. It is easy for us to use connectivity to broadcast our own thoughts and messages through social media in a way that is considered activism. Just by looking back on recent hashtags such as #refugeeswelcome, #lovewins and #Ferguson we see how social media power can enhance organisation and control of revolutionary movements.  However, some argue that ‘today’s cyber-utopians need to log off their Facebook accounts and try a little harder.’

One example of someone who has proven to do this is ‘Syrian Girl’, a Youtube activist who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and argues ‘we think we are living in a Democracy but we really aren’t.’ She says the reason why she created the Youtube channel was because ‘at the beginning of the Arab Spring everybody thought it was pro democracy uprising and it was going to be great. But in reality I knew that protesters, a lot of them had Muslim brotherhood backgrounds in politics which means there was great potential for extremism. There was a lot of Syrian people that were opposed to what was going on in Syria and I found that wasn’t really being portrayed in the media.’

Despite being extremely convincing, this is an individual opinion of which can be proven difficult to persuade entire government decisions. For example, The first Bersih rally held in 2007 was no where near as successful compared to the previous campaigns mentioned. This is because the legacy media stopped anything from being posted about the rally as the government didn’t agree with it.

As Ted (2015) argues ‘participation is addictive’. Social media is considered a place to reflect what we believe and we well and truly believe this. The importance of the internet is that it gives the opportunity for each and every node to broadcast to mass audiences. The openness of this network gives those with a political opinion a platform to voice events or for those who can not broadcast messages critical of the government.

Overall, the use of social media hashtags and activism is used to raise awareness. Whether it be positive or negative the trending movements threaten legacy media in the way that they expose uncensored and personalised information.