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How John Oberg Uses Social Media To Bring Animal Activism to Millions

John Oberg uses social media to deliver advocacy for the animals to millions of people around the world. We spoke with him about his background, his approach, and advice for new activists.

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Talking Activism with John Oberg

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 became an independent animal advocate, funded through individual donations, focusing on amplifying pro-animal content in the digital space. Previously, he served as Director of New Media for The Humane League and as Director of Communications for Vegan Outreach. In his decade of experience in social media advocacy, he has accumulated over 200,000 followers, his posts have been seen hundreds of millions of times, and he has heard directly from thousands of people who've been influenced by his work. In alignment with his efforts to inspire other advocates to improve their efforts for animals on social media, he launched three online courses through the online educational platform, Advocacy Collaborative.

The Early Years
Like most people who today lead a vegan lifestyle, John wasn’t raised vegan. However, he had a strong moral foundation to draw from, as from his earliest years the importance of compassion was instilled in him by his mother.

Regarding his mother’s impact on his path toward activism, John recalled, “What she essentially told me when I was younger is that animals are vulnerable and that we should speak up for the vulnerable. She told me that they suffer a great deal at the hands of humans and this is suffering that each one of us can work to alleviate. So she really taught me to be compassionate to animals — and that led me to eventually become a full-time animal activist many years later.”
John Oberg advocating for animals with his mother.
John protesting deer hunting with his mother in 1999, his first foray into activism.

John’s early exposure to animals came in the form of companions that lived in his household. His mother rescued numerous cats, who initially were strays that eventually became members of the family, and she had also saved several turtles. Even in his early years, John knew that he was an animal lover, but hadn’t yet made the connection between certain lifestyle decisions, such as eating animal products, and the companions that he cared about in his everyday life — but this was destined to change.

On The Path to Change
Reflecting on what causes people to change their perspective towards animals, John commented, “I think that change usually comes slowly over time, throughout numerous events. And generally, there’s something that acts as a nail in the coffin. For me, there were many events that happened over the course of years that led me to eventually pursue activism — these things that I couldn’t turn away from led me to change.”

An eye-opening moment for John happened while traveling through Finland at an open air market. There, he became fast friends with a man selling reindeer meat. He told John to come back after the market had closed and agreed to give John the leftover meat from the day. At the time, John knew in his heart that he loved animals, but was not living a plant-based lifestyle — the connection between his values and his actions had not yet been made.

John returned after the market had closed and the man gave him a garbage bag of prepared meat. It just so happened that this man was an activist outside of his job, and so they began discussing their desires to make a change in the world.

John recalled the conversation, “I always felt like I had an activist spirit in me, and I took advantage of the opportunity to tell him that I wanted to someday be an activist as well. And he said, ‘What kind of activism are you interested in, John?’ And I said, ‘I want to be an animal activist.’ And he stopped, looked at me, and said ‘Well, if you want to be an animal activist, you should realize that you currently have over your shoulder a garbage bag full of reindeer meat.’ I had never, until that moment, made the connection between my love and compassion for animals and the foods I was choosing to eat — and so that was sort of the last thing that did it for me.’”

A short time after this conversation, John went vegetarian with the intention of going vegan. While transitioning over the course of several months, he came to believe that if he truly loved animals, he should meet them, and try to learn more about their world. At this point, he didn’t know much about factory farming, or the particulars of how egg-laying hens and dairy cows were treated. His perspective began to expand when he watched the movie Earthlings. The film helped him recognize that the ethical problems related to animal farming applied not just to those animals used for meat, but also to animals used by humans for other purposes. He came to realize that farmed animals essentially lead lives of cruelty all day, every day because they are simply seen as a means to turn a profit. This understanding led John to immediately go vegan, and become more immersed in the world of animal activism.

Finding His Calling as an Activist
After going vegan, John felt he had taken an important step towards aligning his values with his actions. However, he also understood that he was simply one of many and that if he had the power to encourage other people to live a more peaceful life, then he should do so.

And so began John’s journey as an activist. He was attending college in Arizona at the time and turned to the internet to engage with the local activist community. Before long, he had found a variety of groups that were engaging in animal activism and began attending events that allowed him to experiment with a variety of approaches. The strategies included food giveaways, handing out leaflets, protests, and a variety of other outreach methods designed to articulate the arguments for veganism to the public.

Regarding the work that he felt drawn to, John reflected, “Around 2009, I eventually realized that leafleting seemed to speak to me the most. After a few hours of handing out leaflets, I could feel the big difference made for the animals. It was a numbers game and I appreciate that aspect of it — the more leaflets I handed out, the more people who are going to be impacted. I would often hear from people who had received leaflets in the past and who had gone vegan as a result.”

After handing out hundreds of thousands of leaflets and familiarizing himself with effective activist approaches, John was hired by a group called Vegan Outreach in 2012. For a time, John spent his time traveling around North America running leaflet campaigns, which was work that he both loved and found to be effective.

Life's Hardships Force a Change, but Bring a New Perspective
Not long after his mother became ill, he took it upon himself to take care of her full-time as she had cared for him. Facing this drastic life change, John knew that he would no longer be able to travel as he had, but wanted to continue his work for the animals.

It was then that John first took on the role of managing social media presence, initially for Vegan Outreach. At first, he felt reluctant about the approach, concerned that it would be difficult to manifest real change within the limitations posed by a virtual environment. But he quickly realized that this wasn’t the case — in a single day of doing social media outreach, he would be able to reach more people with the case for animals than would be possible in a lifetime of handing out leaflets. John decided to run with this newfound opportunity, devoting himself to the activist possibilities presented by modern online communication. He operated as the director of communications for vegan outreach for several years, eventually left to oversee The Humane League’s social media for three years, and then left to become an independent animal advocate.

Today, John continues to use social media to spread a positive message and be a voice for animals.

John's Approach to Activism
To better understand how the lessons John has learned throughout his journey as a vegan activist inform his approach today, we covered a variety of topics regarding how he makes a positive change for the animals.
Advice for new activists
John’s attitude towards new activists was unrelentingly optimistic and encouraging. Regarding those looking to start making a difference, John said, “If you are a new vegan and you want to make a difference for animals and you don’t know where to get started, that’s fine. Most people don’t know where to get started!”

He then pointed out that we now live in a time where there are more ways than ever to make a positive difference, and we have the ability to pick the ways that feel most accessible to us. One strategy that John recommended was social media outreach, as it allows people to make a difference from wherever they are.

The pervasiveness of social media also means a greater potential to reach large numbers of people with a positive message for the animals. John, who in 2022 surpassed 100,000 followers on his Twitter account (@JohnOberg), has leveraged social media to deliver his activist work to millions of people and plans to continue using it to raise consciousness about animal suffering and the ways we can alleviate it.
John Oberg speaking at an event in support of the animals.
John speaking at an event in support of the animals.

John also emphasized the value of engaging with activists in your local community, which the internet has again made easier than ever before. By using platforms like Facebook groups and, activists can connect with like-minded people to collaborate and make change locally. This makes it possible for new activists to attend events that have a variety of approaches such as protests, vigils, leafleting, food distribution, and more. These platforms also give activists the ability to create their own events and use their creativity and motivation to organize people around a common cause.

He also noted how combining outreach strategies can sometimes amplify them both. John pointed out, “So for example, if you are leafleting, you could leaflet through the weekend and hand out a few hundred leaflets — and then you could post about that on social media to reach even more.”
Exciting technologies and what they mean for veganism
With the sales of plant-based dairy and meat products on the rise, and the topic of veganism becoming more prominent in general culture, we asked John about what he is excited about for the future. John emphasized that there are ways to help animals that aren’t strictly activism-focused, such as getting behind the movement toward plant-based proteins and cultivated meat products. He pointed out that in the past, new technologies emerged that massively reduced certain forms of animal suffering. The era of wide-scale use of horses for transportation was essentially brought to an end by the adoption of automobiles, as people no longer felt like they had to rely on animals to get around. Plant-based replacements for meat, eggs, and dairy, John argued, could essentially achieve a similar thing for animal farming.

John noted that there currently exist many groups, such as the Good Food Institute, who do this essential work to develop and promote the technologies that reduce society’s reliance on animal agriculture. He argued that by promoting these groups and technologies, in combination with working to change the way people perceive animal suffering to begin with, we can build a meaningful path forward to create a kinder world for animals.
Advice for new activists
As an activist, John has always taken a compassionate and kind approach to education. He has stated in the past that activists should never be rude or mean to others — as he puts it, “Nobody looks at somebody who is being a jerk and says, I want to be like that person.” Given the inherent challenges in communication that social media presents, we asked John how he approaches compassionate education in an online space.

John said, “I try to walk this fine line where my content and presence is appealing enough to vegans to get them excited, but not so antagonistic to non-vegans that they would be turned off. A thing that I say often, is that we need to win hearts and minds, not arguments and debates. It’s easy to win a debate, it’s easy to win an argument, especially when talking about animal activism, but how can we actually win others over? I have found that taking a gentler approach is more likely to get people to open their hearts and minds to my message, to not make them feel judged. And why should I make them feel judged? I was in their shoes 15 years ago and I loved animals.”

John pointed out that it was through people compassionately pointing out the conflict between his love for animals and his choice to consume them that he was able to truly achieve meaningful change. As an activist, he tries to be this source of compassionate education for others, to help them align their values with their behavior, and to be as approachable as possible so that he can maximize the good he does for the animals.
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