Sunday, 7th October, 2012

In February, 2011 Professor Gary Francione was banned from the Vegan Society Facebook page for challenging the practice of The Vegan magazine taking paid advertising for a restaurant that sells animal products. At least, it appeared that this was why he’d been banned; it was difficult to know for sure because he was banned without warning and without explanation by the moderators. Since he’d been perfectly civil, it was evident to everyone that he could not have been banned for breaking the rules of the forum. So the logical conclusion was that he had been banned for whathe said with regard to the advertising and not the way that he said it. The advertisement to which Francione objected was for Lancrigg Vegetarian and Organic House Hotel and Green Valley Café and Restaurant. Lancrigg was described as “A Haven of Peace and Inspiration”. The restaurant menu showed meals that included eggs and a range of dairy products. I doubt very much that the animals tortured and ultimately killed for their bodily secretions would find anything peaceful or inspiring about a place where these have ended up, purely for the purpose of titillating the palates of humans.

It was shocking to think that Vegan Society moderators could have banned the most prominent vegan animal rights theorist in the world, someone who has dedicated thirty years of his life to abolitionist animal rights; whose work includes legal advocacy, six books, numerous essays and podcasts, online advocacy and an unusual level of availability to the public, without even the courtesy of a warning or an explanation — something that should be provided for anyone who is banned from a forum. This is the kind of high-handed, arbitrary treatment of members that brings online forums into disrepute and it was not something we expected to see from the Vegan Society, especially considering their exhortation in their Discussion Policy – “Let’s be excellent to each other”.

A number of abolitionists responded by stating our objections to Francione apparently being banned for his criticism of the Vegan Society advertising policy and his position that the Vegan Society should be unequivocally vegan and that it should not make a moral distinction between flesh and other animal products, specifically, dairy and eggs. We were told this was not  the reason Francione had been banned. We asked for an explanation for the actual reason that he had been banned. We were told that he had been banned because he “broke the rules of the forum”. We asked to be told which rules he had broken. Although we asked this question repeatedly and politely, the Vegan Society Facebook moderators refused to give an answer. They just kept saying that he had contravened their guidelines, and that they wanted to preserve their Facebook page as a “safe, welcoming and inclusive space” for people, implying that Francione had somehow compromised that goal.

It was frustrating to be unable to get an answer as to which rules, or guidelines, Francione had supposedly contravened. One would think that if he had done something against the rules, there would be no problem in the Vegan Society moderators stating exactly which rule(s) he had broken. The Vegan Society Facebook page Discussion Policy can be seen here:

Here are the guidelines they list for what is unacceptable:

Comments that

• condone or encourage illegal activity
• promote prejudice (sexist, racist, homophobic etc.)
• are personal or generalised insults or attacks
• contain excessive swearing
• are apparently intended only to anger or belittle others
will be removed.

Comments that

• add nothing constructive to the discussion
• are repeated (especially when advertising products or services)
• are very long or rambling with no obvious point
• promote non-vegan products, services, recipes, etc.
may be removed.

Users who

• post with multiple user names
• repeatedly try to anger others
• repeatedly break any of the comments guidelines
may be reported to Facebook.

It was evident to anyone who had read Francione’s comments that he had violated none of these guidelines (check this excerpt of the discussion thread, ‘Why are non-vegan restaurants advertised in The Vegan?’ for yourself. This is not the entire discussion but is most of it prior to Francione being banned and gives a good indication of his general attitude and tone). He had, however, inadvertently exposed the Vegan Society as violating one of its own guidelines – promoting “non-vegan products, services, recipes etc.” – in its magazine.

We found it disturbing that representatives of the Vegan Society were prepared to repeatedly make the defamatory claim that Francione had violated their guidelines, listed above, while supplying no evidence as to exactly how he had done so. They were also surprisingly disinterested in the revelation of the Vegan Society’s violation of its own guideline as listed in the Discussion Policy.

The overall experience of dealing with the Facebook representatives of the Vegan Society was one of meeting a brick wall, of being cynically fobbed off with meaningless “corporate speak”. It became quite clear that they had no intention at all of taking our questions seriously and responding honestly. In addition to repeating the refrain that Francione had broken the rules, their responses consisted of repeatedly and mechanically informing us that “The Vegan Society is run by vegan Full Members, who elect Trustees to guide policy” (or similar statement to this effect) and that policy is decided by a vote of members at the Annual General Meeting — fascinating information, no doubt, but totally irrelevant in terms of shedding light on why Francione had been summarily banned from their Facebook page.

Not only were we stonewalled in this way, but I’m sorry to say that the Vegan Society representatives kept contradicting themselves in a most embarrassing fashion. They simply could not get their story straight, with one moderator contradicting the other, and even contradicting themselves. This did nothing to disabuse us of our feeling that we were not being dealt with honestly and openly. An example is that we were told that Francione had been banned due to a consensus of the moderators, although they couldn’t tell us what that consensus comprised. Then, we were told that we would have to wait until the Annual General Meeting convened (nine months away at that time) in order for the members to form a consensus as to why Francione had been banned. If this sounds bizarre to you, I can assure you it sounded bizarre to us. When we asked why they needed to form a new consensus when they already supposedly had a consensus, and how a consensus could be formed retrospectively, there was, predictably, no response.

The end result of this futile back and forth was that the entire discussion thread was deleted. Almost immediately, another thread was started regarding the issue of the deletion of the previous thread and why the Vegan Society Facebook moderators would not allow discussion as to the Vegan Society practice of taking paid advertising for a restaurant that served animal products, and why Francione had been banned for attempting to have such a discussion. There were a number of critical comments, not just from supporters of the Abolitionist Approach, but also from a number of members of the Vegan Society, as well as comments from Vegan Society members who defended the actions of the Vegan Society. It seemed a worthwhile discussion, but, all too predictably, this discussion thread was also deleted! Things had reached a point of ultimate absurdity – a discussion thread about why a discussion thread had been deleted, was – deleted!

In an addendum to his essay, The Need for a Vegan Society, dated March 5, 2011, Gary Francione presented correspondence from the Chair of the Vegan Society Council of Management, who stated, in part:

It was because of your offensive reference to Watson spinning in his grave (he still has surviving relatives), that the decision was taken to terminate your connection to the Society’s Facebook page. The discussion re our policy on advertisements played no part in the decision.

I find this explanation patently unbelievable, given that, as Francione points out:

That remark was in my very first Facebook comment on this matter, which occurred on February 18. It apparently took the Vegan Society until February 22 to decide that I should be banned. And by banning me, rather than just removing the allegedly offending comment, the Society just happened to delete the entire discussion that the Society claims “played no part in the decision” to ban me. This is a good lesson either on the inefficiency of bureaucracy or on offering a transparently pretextual reason for banning someone. In any event, if anyone at the Vegan Society had indicated to me that they found my remark to be problematic in any way, I would have been happy to remove it and re-post the comment without that remark even if I did not agree that the remark was inappropriate.

Nevertheless, despite these disappointing experiences, we were given to believe that there would be a vote of the members of the Vegan Society at the AGM in December 2011, on the issue of the Vegan Society advertising policy, and there seemed at least some hope in this that the obscenity of the Vegan Society paying for advertising of an establishment selling animal products would be rejected.  So it was again, disappointing that this AGM passed by with no resolution, and now yet again, the issue does not appear to have been discussed at the Vegan Society Council Meeting of September 29th, 2012. We were told in May 2012 by a representative that “Trustees are volunteers, who generally meet about 8 times per year, so they need to be allowed time to formulate policy responses”. Since this issue first erupted in March, 2011, one can only wonder just how much time is required for a Vegan Society to decide whether it wants to be vegan or not.

I re-post here a segment of Francione’s statement of May 25th, 2012:

Although I certainly had corresponded directly with The Vegan Society in the past about their policy of advertising (and promoting) non-vegan establishments, and Ms. Baker was well aware of those efforts, I decided, in good faith, to try again given the gravity with which I view this issue. So on May 2, I re-sent to The Vegan Society a lengthy memorandum on this issue that I had originally submitted to The Vegan Society on March 2, 2011. I asked that The Vegan Society consider changing the policy. I requested (based on Ms. Baker’s invitation) that The Vegan publish an essay by me on this matter if it decided not to change the policy. I have not received an answer as yet as to either part of my request. If I do not receive an answer shortly, or if The Vegan Society declines to change the policy, I will take the matter from there.

Let me say that I regard this as an absolutely fundamental issue. As things presently stand, there is a “Vegan Society” that takes money to advertise places that serve animal products. I regard that as nothing short of obscene and as contributing in significant ways to the confused, and erroneous, idea that one can distinguish flesh from other animal products.

 The fact that this is even an “issue” for The Vegan Society is, I fear, rather compelling evidence of how very weak the institutional vegan movement is.

The final conclusion that we are left with is that, despite the evasions and denials of the Vegan Society, Professor Francione was banned for having the temerity to say that the Vegan Society should be vegan, and as such, should not be taking paid advertising from businesses that sell animal products. As long as he remains unheeded on this, we can no longer regard The Vegan Society as authentically and unequivocally promoting veganism — a tragedy for the billions of exploited animals who are depending on us to do just that.

My first-hand experience of dealing with representatives of the Vegan Society in March 2011 in addition to Francione’s three essays on the matter on his abolitionistapproach.comsite and the excerpt from The Vegan Society Facebook discussion which resulted in his banning, do not inspire me with great hope that we can look forward to a satisfactory outcome with regard to the lamentable situation of a “Vegan Society” supporting animal exploitation through its advertising policy. I would like to be proven wrong.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s