The Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) interactive guest interviews (known as ARZone chats) have several features and elements. Due to some confusion about how they operate – and indeed, why they exist – the ARZone administrative team, Carolyn Bailey, Tim Gier, Kate Go Vegan, Jason Ward and I have issued the following statement. Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) is a social movement networking site committed to rational discussion and facilitating an exchange of views among members of the animal advocacy movement. ARZone allows membership interaction via forum posts, blog entries and transcripts of the guest interviews. In addition, ARZone runs a 24-hour live “chat room” which its almost 1600 members are free to use to make contact with each other and exchange news and information. ARZone understands that individual members of all social movements tend to hold some competing ideas and differing values. Therefore, the site attempts to foster an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance – we are opposed to banning people merely because they express views other than our own. We are not threatened by difference and diversity.These values are reflected in the regular ARZone chats which feature members of the animal advocacy movement who hold a divergence of views about how best to help nonhuman animals. We are also prepared to interview people from outside of the movement, including people who are in favour of using nonhuman animals for human ends. For a list of previous ARZone guests, see ARZone on Wikipedia.In the week prior to a chat, we announce who the guest will be and request that members submit questions for them. This allows time for members to research details about the guest and thereby ask informed questions. These pre-registered questions form a part of the chat interviews. In advance of the interviews, the guests are sent the pre-registered questions so that they, in turn, have time to consider their response and, if necessary, research their answer. This means that detailed questions, for example, about company accounts and particular journal articles or blog posts, or things said in videos and podcasts, have been asked and answered.During the actual interview, which is transcribed live as it happens, the pre-registered questions are asked in order, preferably by the writer of the question, but they can also be asked by a member of ARZone’s admin team if the question writer cannot attend. We very much prefer questioners to ask their own questions since they are all afforded the opportunity to ask a follow-up question after considering the response to the pre-registered one. An “open session” occurs at the end of the pre-registered session when members are asked to contact the admin team by the “private message” facility built into the ARZone site. This results in the formation of a second list of questions for the guest and, once again, the questioner can ask a follow-up question (in fact, some have asked several follow-ups in this less formal part of the chat.)In summary, an ARZone interview transcript contains the results of the following procedure.
1. Announcement of guest (this announcement is supplemented by the release of materials about or by the guest on the ARZone web site.)
2. The gathering in of the pre-registered questions.
3. The interactive guest interview in the ARZone chat room featuring pre-registered questions, the opportunity for follow-ups, an open session for questions and follow-ups (no guest has refused to make themselves available for the open session). At the end of each chat, ARZone members are reminded that they are encouraged to comment on the interview in the “comments” box which is situated under each transcript and is maintained as a database of the discussions arising from the chats. This reminder is also published several times per day in ARZone member’s 24/7 live chat room.
4. The publication of the interview transcript (usually within 12-15 hours after the chat).
ARZone regards its chats as the beginning of something and not the end of something. The site has several features that allow members to comment on the guest interviews after the event, so even those who where not present can assess both the questions and the answers. Members can comment at the end of a transcript, can begin a forum thread about what a guest has said or write a blog entry about issues raised in chats. ARZone also publish individual questions and answers in a special Q&A web site, Words to Inspire Debate from the Animal Rights Zone Guest Transcipts, which provides "bite-sized portions" of the interviews and links back to the full transcripts.
The evolution of ARZone.The ARZone admin team and members are constantly exploring better ways to encourage useful dialogue in the animal advocacy movement and beyond. For example, at times when guests are generally unavailable, such as at Christmas and New Year, we have begun a series of “‘Members Only’ Live Open Forums” in which ARZone members meet in the chat room to discuss a number of current issues in the animal movement. We are also considering holding the chats on a fortnightly basis to better facilitate members digesting and discussing the issues raised by the interviews. Therefore, in the weeks between the chats, we would run member’s discussion sessions focused on the issues raised in the previous week’s chat.
Criticism of ARZone chats.There have been a number of points raised about the ARZone chats which we think are worth considering. For example, it has been suggested that the chat interviews and the chat announcements “promote” the guests, and even that ARZone is too friendly towards them. It seems to us a rather odd accusation that we are too nice to our guests, and we reject the view that many of those who witness the chat announcements but not the chat itself take away the idea that ARZone endorse the opinions of the guest. A read of the chat transcripts shows that ARZone does not act to promote a guest’s work and members have challenged guests many times on various subjects, such as sexism in campaigns, salaries, and support for harmful forms of direct action. Anyone who knows ARZone is aware that this is not the place in which guests are necessarily given an “easy ride.” At the same time, we try to maintain a respectful posture in the chats (something which we have sometimes slipped up on!)We also disagree with a suggestion made that people in general are not bright enough to be exposed to different viewpoints or to decide for themselves what to think. We think this is an elitist position which we cannot countenance. We believe that members of the animal advocacy movement are quite capable of receiving varied information and working out for themselves what to think about it. The very reason ARZone exists is to promote rational discourse. If we thought that people were incapable of understanding different points of view, then ARZone may as well close down.It has been suggested that the ARZone chats are a poor way of gaining information from guest interviewees and, indeed, that guests can reject questions in two ways; either by telling ARZone that they will not answer particular questions, or by avoiding the question on the day. The first option is not available to ARZone guests and we have had very few objections to the pre-registered questions asked. It is, of course, as with any interview, possible for guests to answer a question in ways in which the audience are not happy with and which seem to dodge the question completely. However, we think that the facility of the follow-up questions and the open sessions mean it is less likely that a guest can totally escape answering a point at least to some degree. We submit that an unanswered question reflects badly on the guest and not the questioner, as it tends to when politicians evade questions. It has been put to us that a detailed one-on-one debate would negate this problem but we do not see how this would alter the situation significantly. If someone is intent on avoiding a question, simply repeating of it is unlikely to provide a remedy and what’s left is likely to be the traditional pantomime exchange of “oh no you didn’t” and “oh yes I did.” ARZone is happy to facilitate debates and have done so in the past. For example, when the co-founder of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), Ronnie Lee, was a guest of ARZone, he and Gary Francione engaged in a 12-minute debate-style exchange prior to Ronnie’s chat interview – this led to Ronnie appearing on this podcast in subsequent weeks. We have suggested debates to several people over the last year and will continue to do so. However, we do not see that format as capable of eliminating the issue of guests avoiding questions, as critics have suggested it must.ConclusionAs is true in all human endeavors, ARZone is not perfect and we will always be seeking to improve it. But as part of the broader social movement for the rights of nonhuman animals, and in opposition to ideology of speciesism, ARZone is doing it’s best to provide it’s members with a valuable resource. The discussions held there, before, during and after the chats, among the members and with the guests, can be the foundation of a deeper understanding of human-nonhuman relations. That is our goal, and that is what we are working for.