The truth behind Anonymous for the Voiceless

12 minutes to read
Article
Seline Westerhof
13/09/2019

Anonymous for the Voiceless is a new animal rights movement established in 2016. Different than most animal rights movements, Anonymous for the Voiceless seems to know how to rapidly spread their message around the world, and get many people to listen to their activism.

In this article, I will look at what makes their movement so unlike, or maybe alike, the others, and find out what makes their discourse so intriguing for such a broad public. I will do this by analyzing their self-claimed ‘unique’ way of protesting, the Cube of Truth, and within this event try to understand the workings of their way of communicating with the public.

Anonymous for the Voiceless

Anonymous for the Voiceless identifies themselves an animal rights movement that simply wants to bring change and awareness about animal exploitation, and will do this by a non-aggressive and passive way of protesting, without any discrimination or constraint.  It was set up by the Australian couple Paul Bashir and Asal Alamdari in 2016.

Ever since, the movement spread immensely fast over the rest of the world, and not only in Western countries. In the first year, 2016, the number of cities where they located their so-called ‘chapters’ was about 22 in total, including London (UK), Melbourne (Australia) and Cape Town (South Africa). By the end of 2017, this number was raised to 300 cities, and at the end of 2018, there were about 900 chapters located in 80 different countries around the world. This was a quite unforeseen growth, as their movement spread like wildfire within only two years.

Paul Bashir, the founder of the movement, claims that it is all about their new unique and peaceful way of protesting which they call the ‘Cube of Truth’. And it seems to work. By January 2019, not only their offline urban base expanded, also their online member-base raised to the staggering amount of almost 200.000 likes on Facebook and thousands of donations via their website. This fast growth is one of the reasons why this movement is one that cannot stay unnoticed.

As mentioned before, their main ideology and goal is to fight for the lives of animals and, as they state on their website: “fully equip the public with everything they need in switching to a vegan lifestyle." In addition, they claim to hold an abolitionist stance on animal exploitation, which means that they strive to abolish our socially common attitude towards animal slaughter and wake people up to the world-wide normalized idea of humans as carnivores.

In the end, we can see that Anonymous for the Voiceless still share their major ideology with many other animal rights organizations that aim for a change in animal exploitation and public awareness for that what happens in the industries. However, their ideology is taken seriously by a broad audience, one that is, as they claim, not determined by any political, ethnic or religious background. So, we may ask ourselves how did Anonymous for the Voiceless manage to bring this message with so much success? How did they mold this worldview towards a vegan lifestyle, one that is often associated with the extreme left, into an idea that many people around the world suddenly seem to adopt? And what role does the Cube of Truth play in all of this?

The Cube of Truth

Inspired by Martin Luther King’s quote about how to effectively organize demonstrations, and street actions known as 'The Earthlings Experience', Anonymous for the Voiceless spreads their message with their unique way of street-activism which they call: The Cube of Truth.

The Cube of Truth is a form of street-protest wherein activists form the outlines of a cube, facing the streets, standing with their backs to the center of the cube. Such cube must have equal sides but can be as big as one wants, depending on the number of volunteers. The number of people in a cube can be quite massive, like the one in Berlin, that included about 300 people standing in the cube. But if there are only two people protesting, they can stand with their backs to each other, as long as they are faced outwards, to confront the public. 

Cube of Truth Manchester, UK

The first Cube of Truth demonstration took place in 2016, in the home-city of the co-founder and director Paul Bashir: Melbourne, Australia. The Cube of Truth is the major tool by which Anonymous for the Voiceless performs their ideology, goals, and beliefs. The movement calls this form of protest their specialization, the one thing their activism thrives upon.

The activists in the Cube of Truth wear the well-known masks from the V for Vendatta movie which the political hacker-group Anonymous is now known for, and with that refer to and make use of the strong message those masks alone obtain. Anonymous for the Voiceless claims that activists get to wear the masks because this is the only way they can stand in the cube for such a long time without people staring into their eyes, but it is not to ignore that there is literally and figuratively more behind those masks than meets the eye.

The activists that stand in the cube are asked to hold screens or laptops showing footage of animals being killed and slaughtered in the meat or fur industries. Others in the cube hold signs with the word ‘truth’. That word suggests that the footage shown belongs to the truth, a truth that has been hidden for many but now is openly exposed so that people finally can see what happens to animals in the meat and clothing industries.

This whole image creates a slightly artistic scene on the streets and invites the people passing by to take a look - to become aware, see the truth, finally understanding and acknowledging this truth. It’s your choice, they only show you the truth, you can do with it what you want. But if you show interest, some who are given the task to talk with you about what you are seeing, come up to convince you to become vegan by referring to the footage. At the same time, they claim their only goal is to open up the conversation about the reality of animal exploitation. Showing you the truth, waking you up. 

Choreographing the Cube of Truth

Many big cities around the world already have monthly organized Cube of Truths with volunteers that sign up via private Facebook-groups. If you want to participate in the Cube of the Truth, you can become a member of one of the local Facebook groups from Anonymous for the Voiceless and sign up for a protest. Everyone can participate when becoming a member in the 'chapter' in the city of their own choice, as they only ask you if you share the same beliefs and are willing to buy merchandise to wear at the demonstrations.  

This, however, requires a lot of organization and structure. With Paul and Asal at the top, organizing the cubes all around the world, this all calls for a highly organized system. And this organization all begins with the already mentioned well-known social media platform they use: Facebook. And I could argue that without Facebook their growth and success would never be possible.

To be precise, the Facebook page of Anonymous for the Voiceless has 138.134 likes and 135.821 followers. On average, each post gets around 600 likes, with some of them reaching a total of 3,5 thousand likes. Anonymous for the Voiceless adopted Facebook as their main key for communication. However, for them, Facebook is not only a tool to spread their message and ideology, but their major use of this platform is to recruit new members and organize their events - the Cube of Truth demonstrations mentioned before. Facebook has become their means of mobilization, or as Paolo Gerbuado (2012) argues:

“Social media can be seen as the contemporary equivalent of what the newspaper, the poster, the leaflet or direct mail were for the labor movement. They are means to not simply to convey abstract opinions, but also to give a shape to the way in which people come together and act together, or, to use the metaphorical language that will be adapted in this book, to choreograph collective action.” (Gerbuado, 2012).

This results in a way of street activism that is not spontaneous as it seems to be. This is not an example of 'networked individualism'. All the organization and structure behind the protests suggest hierarchy and rules. And this is done by getting people on the move, the Cube of Truth is organized by ‘recruiting’ volunteers via Facebook, and (potential) volunteers can become a member of the private Facebook groups, of which there is one for each city.

Mobilizing 'the truth' as a key concept in their discourse, in combination with the images of slaughtered animals is a very powerful vehicle to normalize their ideology.

Those groups, or chapters, can also be put forward by an enthusiast volunteer when there is not yet an organized event or chapter in a certain city. Following from that highly organized top-down hierarchy, the volunteers receive instructions and rules on how to participate or organize a demonstration in the desired city.

Those (new) admins of the Facebook groups also belong in this hierarchy, as ‘soft leaders’ or choreographers, as Gerbuado calls them (Gerbuado, 2012). Gerbuado argues that the task of social media has become the new way of ‘getting people on the streets’. For that, he introduced the term choreography of assembly, which describes the newly mobilizing and organizing function social media have in politics and diverse movements.

The choreographers provide the volunteers with instructions and suggestions for how to organize a Cube of Truth. Instructions on how to act and how to provide the public with their message aim for consistency spread over all those chapters. And Facebook now shapes this communication and sustains their  “coming together in the public space... reclaiming squares and physical public space for use and political organizing” (Gerbuado, 2012).

Those rules and instructions are crucial for their online and offline communication. This reoccurring organization embedded in a translocal franchise structure embedded in different local and global Facebook pages ensures that Anonymous for the Voiceless spreads a consistent message within all their demonstrations around the world. They manage to perfectly spread a stable trustworthy message that many people can hold onto.

Universal Animal Rights as truth

This consistent message is based upon their core ideology, one that therefore stays strong and drives the group from within. This ideology, the beliefs and ideals the members of Anonymous for the Voiceless adhere to, also form the basis of their activism. Their beliefs in this sense are that animals have the same rights as humans, and that humans should reject 'speciesism': the belief that humans are on the top of the world. As they claim that society and capitalism hold us back from a confrontation with the reality of that what happens in the industries, and for that, we fail to recognize the reality. Anonymous for the Voiceless is here to show that truth, and wake us up.

This ideology is created with different elements that in turn communicate the message and together when in action, form the discourse. Discourse implies all explicit or implicit communication from the group that form the complete picture and consists of things like branding: logos, design and graphics, but also their use of language: slogans, words and ‘tone of voice’. Blommaert mentions that these elements together form the discourse as semiotic behavior at large and are a site of ideology (Blommaert, 2005).

During their demonstrations, there is one major (socio-)linguistic element that organizes their discourse, namely ‘truth’. During the Cube of Truth, some activists carry signs with, written in large white letters: ‘truth’.

Cube of Truth Manchester, UK

This ‘truth’ refers to the shocking footage of animals being killed. Both elements, the footage shown and the word ‘truth’ , support the message and ideology of Anonymous for the Voiceless. Also the title of the protest, Cube of Truth, reveals that it is an important factor in their communication with the public.

It is important to understand how this 'truth' works from a political and sociolinguistic perspective. The volunteers of Anonymous for the Voiceless are there showing the footage of animals being slaughtered, referring to ‘the truth’. Mobilizing this word, in combination with the images of slaughtered animals is a very powerful vehicle to normalize their ideology. It is almost impossible to say something against that ‘truth’.

 

Their use of the concept of ‘truth' works quite well and appears to have a strong appeal to get people’s attention and make a point. The ‘truth’ is often used to describe facts, evidence that explains reality, or to distinguish the real from that which is not reliable. For this, the concept ‘truth’ has a lot of emotional connotations and can touch people in their most inner beliefs of what to trust and what not to trust.

People who are passing by their protests may presumably be somewhat shocked by the footage they just saw and that triggers an emotional reaction by some people, as seen in this video below:

 

When we analyze the behavior of activists and the people they address, we see another reason why this ‘truth’ discourse works so well. The 'truth' that the movement stages is not only presented as an actual state of a matter, a scientific truth, with static facts as evidence. We could also understand their performance styled as a religious revelation of truth, triggering classic behavior of believers suddenly seeing and feeling an epiphany.

If we look at the video again with that in mind, we see something interesting happening. We can easily recognize a religious format. With Asal and Paul as charismatic leaders at the top, telling a narrative that translates the abstract world into something ‘real’ and graspable, with symbols and rituals. In this perspective, we see that the Cube of Truth resembles a healing ceremony or a baptizing ceremony. All of a sudden, people see the light. They see the one and only truth.

Zooming into the emotional tears the man in the video sheds, it almost seems like he has been healed and reformed to better his life, all because he saw the truth. As the man in the video says, crying: “When you do watch the footage…. It changes you. In a good way. These tears are worth it, there is no better purpose in life than to make this world a better place, and we are going to win. And it won’t take that long.” 

As if he has seen the light, and he wants the world to see it too. Later in the video, another member of Anonymous for the Voiceless refers to this ‘truth’ by also using this religious metaphor of ‘seeing the light’. These epiphanies are not only filmed, but they are also remediatized online as to help others see the light.

Why is Anonymous for the voiceless so successful?

In a very short period of time, Anonymous for the Voiceless has become a global activist network. All over the world, people join the movement and participate online and offline in furthering the cause for Animal Rights and veganism. We can explain that success by analyzing the different ingredients that together form their discourse. The affordances of Facebook to distribute discourse and to organize online and offline actions is certainly one important ingredient to mention. Also, the cube of truth is a critical element that contributes to the communication of the whole. Four elements are important here:

(1) The offline choreography. The cube of truth is a highly choreographed and stylized form of activism. The format resembles the main message of the movement, namely that they are not political. That they are not ideological, but only 'presenting the truth'. Activists do not speak, they let the facts speak for themselves. However, as we discussed before, this 'truth' is ideological and these facts just contribute to their still political interwoven ideology.

(2) Discursive framing. The concept of truth is crucial. The frame their ideology around animal rights as simply 'the truth', and thus as rational and as facts. Ideology is presented as 'common sense' in line with science.

(3) Religious format. The activism follows the format of the revelation of truth. The ideology is presented as an eternal truth. Activists are only medium, not messengers. And the bystanders are an essential part of this activism, especially when they are being filmed while they see the light.

(4) Facebook. Facebook is a crucial infrastructure of this activism. Offline activism and the epiphanies of the bystanders are remediatized online. These movies function as mobilizing instrument for new activists. Activists are then welcomed and organized online for offline assembly.

In the end, it maybe goes too far to compare the social structure of Anonymous for the Voiceless with that of a religion, but I think it is important that we notice such a fast-spreading movement like this. There is more going on than only fighting for something they stand for. It gives people a purpose in life, a group to belong to and brings them together with people with the same ideas - something that is in any social context a must for us as human beings. Anonymous for the voiceless uses the full register to convince us to join their cause.

 

 

References

Blommaert, J. (2005). Discourse. Key topics in sociolinguistics. Cambridge University Press, UK

Gerbaudo, P. (2014). Tweets and the Streets. Social Media and contemporary activism. PlutoPress.