We recently released an evaluation of online ads, the third evaluation to use our intervention evaluation form, a standardized template that provides a consistent, rigorous process for evaluating different ways of helping animals.
Our report includes a short write-up that covers the intervention’s strengths, weaknesses, long-term effects, characteristics that make implementations more effective, and robustness of evidence. These factors are considered more deeply in our full-length report. The report also includes ratings of different features of the intervention on a 1-7 scale.
In our evaluation, we drew upon evidence from conversations with people who run online ads, our general knowledge of activism and social psychology, and reviews of relevant literature such as Get Out The Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout.
Here’s our overall view on the intervention:
Do we recommend it? Why or why not?
We currently don’t recommend that organizations create new online ads programs or expand existing programs, at least when that funding could be used for more promising interventions such as corporate outreach and undercover investigations. We feel that the main upside of online ads, reaching a large number of people at very low costs, is outweighed by the concerns of low and uncertain per-viewer impact and the limited long term and indirect benefits. Even if we focus entirely on short-term impact, corporate outreach still seems more promising. However, if corporate outreach becomes more difficult in the future, e.g. once cage-free reforms are fully implemented, then online ads or other forms of dietary change outreach might be justified as the most cost-effective intervention for short term impact. We think that some ads programs, such as those that run VSG ads or have spent significant time minimizing their cost-per-pledge, tend to be more promising than others.
We are currently working on an intervention evaluation of legal work, which will use the same template. We expect to release the legal work evaluation later this year or early next year.
I’m curious how you think this affects marginal donations. I don’t know how a three- or low-four-figure donation would lead to more corporate campaigns or undercover investigations. Given the huge institutional money behind these actions, I don’t see how my donation would impact them.
I’m also curious if you think about long-term, fundamental change. If we are going to create the change we really want — no animals used for food, compared to cage-free animals — what can we do to most effectively change the demand side of things? Especially at the marginal donation level.
Jacy Reese says
Michael, we think three- or low-four- figure donations can lead to more (or better) corporate campaigns or undercover investigations. Just because those figures wouldn’t be enough to cover a whole campaign/investigation doesn’t mean they couldn’t support them.
I think this analogous in some ways to eating fewer animal products. You could make the case that not buying one egg carton is insignificant when grocery stores and restaurants order them by the case, but it’s better to think of it in terms of expected value, where every once in a while, your purchase could mean the difference in whether they purchase a whole case. I elaborated on this on Reddit not long ago: [Link].
For long-term, fundamental change, I think marginal donations can have substantial impact for similar reasons. Corporate outreach can help establish activist-corporate connections that allow us to increase the consumption of animal-free foods, investigations build a social impetus for ending animal farming, etc. I’d say all of our Top Charities are solid bets for making that kind of a diference.
Two other comments after reading the longer page:
1. You don’t mention the potential impacts on recidivism. It could easily be argued that keeping current vegetarians from going back to eating animals is the lowest-hanging fruit. Having current vegetarians see online ads could be the most effective way of keeping them in “the fold.”
2. This strikes me as absurd, and the rationalization of a person with Francione sympathies, which leads me to discount the entire analysis:
“In the long-term, it’s possible that online ads could increase the perception of veg eating as a personal choice, trend, or fad, which could prevent a further reduction in animal product consumption due to seeing it as a moral or social imperative.”
That level of absurd attack is unworthy of ACE.
Jacy Reese says
Michael, thanks for this comment as well.
1. It’s important to consider recidivism. Glad you mentioned it. We did consider the long-term/community-building effects of online ads, which would include recidivism. We could have discussed that more in the report, although our texts are already very long. We will have more content coming out soon about recidivism, including some quantitative analysis (not specific to online ads, but applicable to them).
2. Sorry to hear you see that as absurd. It seems like a valid possibility to us, although it’s always difficult to speculate about long-term effects like that one. I’d be curious if you had specific arguments for why we shouldn’t even acknowledge it as a consideration.
Che Green says
I agree with both of Michael’s points. On #2, I also agree this sounds more like an ideological preference rather than being based on evidence. To say the risk of negative long-term effects is a “4” out of “7” seems pretty odd and unsupported. What’s the basis for that besides just conjecture about reinforcing the “personal choice” question?
Jacy Reese says
Che, it’s an empirical consideration rather than an ideological one. We want the best outcomes for animals in the long-run, and it’s at least plausible that a moral/social imperative framing is better for that than the personal choice framing. Some plausible reasons to believe this:
It would be nice if we had better evidence on these questions, but unfortunately sometimes the best we have is weak evidence and armchair reasoning. We have to make to do with what we’ve got. If there were good empirical evidence against any of our more speculative arguments, there’s a good chance that the empirical evidence would have more weight and would change our minds. We’d love to hear about such evidence.
Che Green says
Thanks, Jacy. I appreciate the response. And I agree that it’s at least plausible. Personally, I read a 4/7 as more than just recognizing something is plausible, but that could be me. Part of it might also be the definition of the endpoint… I’m not sure why it would be a mark against a tactic or campaign for it to ignore parts of the system, as long as there’s no evidence that it’s actually harming other advocacy efforts.
I should note that this is one small issue with an overall impressive and laudable effort.
Jacy Reese says
We could be clearer about what a 4/7 means. It’s close to meaning “average,” but the reference class isn’t clear. This is hard to figure out on our end because we don’t know what interventions we’ll evaluate in the future.
We are trying to make the numbers make sense relative to other evaluated interventions. Investigations and corporate outreach are both at 3/7, so a 4/7 might not be too concerning.
I think “ignore parts of the system” is definitely a potential mark against a tactic. We want to consider all outcomes of a tactic, even those it isn’t designed to effect (e.g. the way online ads usually focus on effecting individual dietary change). This is because we’re ultimately outcome-focused, rather than focused on intentions. We also think there is almost never “no evidence,” just sometimes little empirical evidence. If you’re very robustness-focused, it could make sense to exclude outcomes with little empirical evidence. ACE is relatively robustness-focused compared to (my personal guess at) the average EAA, but not entirely, so I think this level of consideration of speculative outcomes still makes sense. (Note that personally, I’m much less concerned with robustness than ACE is as an organization.)
Thanks for the positive and constructive feedback. We definitely appreciate both 🙂
helo i have read and stand but i have something to say about this is animal charity evaluator and i know that you deal with all animals i would like to send something to you so that you can evaluate and if possible need help on this it is about working animal and is donkey
Jacy Reese says
Brenda, thanks for your comment. Please feel free to leave a comment with the information you’d like to send, or end it to us directly at this link.
Jane Meinhart says
I don’t understand this discussion or the points. Che and Michael are absolutely right. The argument “this might not be an absolutist / abolitionist enough message” does strike me as absolutely ridiculous, and obviously ideology-driven. Does Gary F work for ACE now?
But even moreso, it is contradicted by the idea that corporate campaigns are better [sic] for animals. So to get this straight: A campaign that argues for animals not to be eaten isn’t ideologically pure enough, but a campaign that doesn’t save any animals at all but improves their condition is “better.”
Jacy Reese says
Jane, the concern about online ads is that they could reinforce the idea that helping farmed animals is a personal choice, while it might be better to frame the need to help animals as a social imperative.
This is an empirical consideration rather than an ideological one. It’s just about what sort of interventions will have the greatest benefit to animals. As discussed with Che, “Some plausible reasons to believe [that the “social imperative” framing is more promising]:
It would be nice if we had better evidence on these questions, but unfortunately sometimes the best we have is weak evidence and armchair reasoning. We have to make to do with what we’ve got. If there were good empirical evidence against any of our more speculative arguments, there’s a good chance that the empirical evidence would have more weight and would change our minds. We’d love to hear about such evidence.”
Jacy, you nailed it — you are working only through your personal armchair reasoning. In short, you are parroting DxE and Francione without any evidence (actually evidence to the contrary). You’ve already proven you are a DxE wanna be (http://bit.ly/2c6lBGk), and your admission of reasoning based on DxE’s fantasies completely undermines any credibility that ACE might have had. Congrats.
Jacy Reese says
Jane, sorry to hear you feel that way about our reasoning. We’re always open to new evidence. I shared some, but surely there’s more out there we can find with more research and collaboration.