Philosophy of activism: comment “swarming”

In my ongoing Philosophy of Activism series, I describe tactics used by various advocacy organizations and solicit feedback from our readers to determine if those tactics are effective or not. For the latest edition, I wanted to pick all of your brains about a tactic that I personally used this week.

Last week, I wrote a post about a troublesome shark news story in my local newspaper, the Charleston Post and Courier.  I noticed in the comments of the news story itself that a Post and Courier reader took issue with my criticisms. I’m always up for a good discussion, but this reader wasn’t interested in a discussion. They aimed to insult me, and claim that scientists have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to shark populations (in the original article, a shrimp fisherman claimed that blacktip populations were the highest in 50 years, which is incorrect).

I used Twitter and Facebook to get the word out there about this commenter, and asked people who knew that shark populations were indeed declining to say so. I want to know if you think this tactic is worth pursuing in the future.

The goal of this tactic is not to persuade “fishcatcher” that they are wrong. That individual is not interested in discussing the matter, and zealots on either side are rarely persuadable.

The goal is to reach the other people who view that Post and Courier article. Ideally, if someone who doesn’t know that sharks are experiencing population declines is curious enough to read through the comments, they will see a few rude comments by an anti-shark zealot and a lot of comments by rational, well informed shark conservationists. Hopefully this will result in changing minds, or at least getting the word out there that many shark species are in trouble.

As of this writing, there are 31 comments on the article’s page, and only 2 of them (both from the original person I mentioned)  make the claim that sharks are not in trouble. Many comments are pro-shark (or at least anti-sensationalism about sharks), and a few provide recipes for grilled blacktip.

Is it worth pursuing this technique in the future?

Would it be more effective if more than five conservationists participated? I didn’t use the full extent of my spamming resources.

Is there any way that this technique could harm the cause of shark conservation?


July 21, 2010 • 11:33 am