John Oberg is a social media influencer and animal advocate dedicated to making the world a kinder place for animals by utilizing the power of social media. In late 2018, he launched his own independent, patron-funded program for animals through Patreon to maximize his impact, redefining animal advocacy in the social networking space. Previously, he served as Director of New Media for The Humane League and as Director of Communications for Vegan Outreach. Since launching his project, he has accumulated hundreds of millions of impressions of his content across social media. He recently launched an online course called Mastering Twitter to Change the World.
Sarah Browne: You’ve credited your mom for getting into animal rights activism. What was she like and how did she influence you?
John Oberg: My mom was awesome. She was an animal lover through and through and really instilled a sense of compassion in animals in me. She taught me to advocate for animals from a young age because they were vulnerable and innocent. Later in my life, I taught her about the ways in which farm animals are abused to become meat, which led to her going vegetarian. Full circle!
Sarah: Were you always vegan?
John: I went vegan in 2009 at the age of 21. I’ve now been vegan for the past 12 years and it remains one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Not for a single moment have I ever regretted the decision and in fact, I only wish I had done it sooner!
Sarah: How did you get started as an animal rights activist?
John: As soon as I went vegan, I read a powerful essay called “A Meaningful Life” by Matt Ball which made me realize that being vegan is great for the animals I would’ve eaten over the course of my life, but getting others to go vegan means exponentially more impact. So I started getting involved in local grassroots advocacy where I was going to college at the time in Phoenix, Arizona. The led to me eventually getting a job with Vegan Outreach traveling around North America handing out pro-animal leaflets to hundreds of thousands of people.
Sarah: When did you start to see that social media was lifting your reach even higher, making you a well-known animal activist?
John: I sort of reluctantly accepted the position of Director of Communications at Vegan Outreach which included running and overseeing our social media presence. Upon doing this, I realized that I could reach hundreds of even thousands of times the number of people I could reach in a single day of person-to-person outreach.
Sarah: What tips can you give anyone who wants to use social media to make change for animal rights?
John: Focus on reaching non-vegans, not other vegans. Vegans can’t get any *more* vegan! Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t on social media. Be kind and understanding in your messaging. Be willing to meet people where they are rather than where we want them to be. Understand that you may be only chipping away at walls rather than entirely breaking them down, but that’s equally important and an integral aspect of effective animal advocacy.
Sarah: What have you accomplished with social media that you are proud of?
John: Content that I’ve posted to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram has been seen hundreds of millions of times. That has assuredly led to many thousands who’ve changed their ways. The world is a kinder place as a result. While none of us will create a vegan world overnight, we each can do what we can, within reason, to reduce a lot of needless animal cruelty because of the foods we choose to eat.
Sarah: What is the best reaction you’ve ever witnessed of an animal getting rescued and brought to a better home?
John: When meat-eaters see the joy that farm animals can experience—and are prevented from experiencing in animal agriculture—many have a new appreciation for these animals. An appreciation similar to how they feel about cats and dogs. This is often one of the crucial steps in getting people to make changes in their behavior that positively impact animals—such as no longer eating them.
Sarah: How do you pick and choose areas to focus on in animal rights advocacy on social media? How do you balance it?
John: I focus almost exclusively on farm animal advocacy because 99 percent of animals killed in the US every year are animals raised for food. Therefore, as advocates, we each can do the most good by advocating for these animals. Additionally, they suffer in some of the worst ways behind the closed doors of factory farms and slaughterhouses.
Sarah: Why do you think people don’t become vegan? What’s the biggest misconception about animals that leads people to look away?
John: People are hesitant to go vegan because of habits, uncertainty, and a lack of a social support system. Fortunately, these are changing rapidly. People are more open to eating more vegan food (and therefore less worried about the idea of going vegan). Plant-based eating is really going mainstream with many celebrities going vegan, new plant-based companies and products emerging, and while a decade ago you may only know one or two other people who ever went vegan, now you probably know a handful of folks who are currently vegan!
Sarah: If you could tell someone ONE reason why to become vegan, what would it be?
John: It’s the best way to help animals and it’ll surprise you how easy it is in today’s world.
Sarah: What gives you hope?
John: The way that people react when they first learn about the horrors farm animals face in today’s world. Most people still believe that the animals they eat live decent lives with one bad day when they’re slaughtered. When they discover that most farm animals suffer nearly every hour of every day, their empathy and desire to change never fails to inspire me.
Sarah: What is your current position and any organizations you are working with? And how can we learn more about you?
John: I am an independent animal advocate whose work on social media is fueled almost entirely by the financial support of individuals through my Patreon. I am also a social media consultant with a focus on animal advocacy and have recently launched a course called Mastering Twitter to Change the World through the Advocacy Collaborative platform designed specifically for animal advocates (and advocates of many causes) to master the platform to create a kinder world.
Sarah Jeanne Browne is a speaker, writer, and activist. Her website is www.sarahjeannebrowne.com .