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Making animal rights go viral

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Toronto musician and film maker Gabriel Nicolau, known as Gaiaisi, has had his Tell a Friend music video go viral. His video has more than 100,000 views and has been shared by Upworthy. Steff Pinch spoke to Gabriel about how other animal rights activists can go viral.

Why did you write the song?

I didn't even know that Canada Goose jackets were real fur until last winter. I saw the jackets everywhere and it just never crossed my mind that they would be killing animals for those decorations. Then Furbearer Defenders ran ads along the trains in Toronto, exposing the truth about the fur trade. So I went on their website and read more about it and was just completely appalled. Seeing the realities of trapping and factory farming these animals for fur infuriated me.

Originally, I wasn't thinking of writing a song or anything like that. I wanted to start a trend of people taking the Furbearer defenders postcards (showing animals trapped for fur) to stores like Canada Goose and showing shoppers while someone filmed it. But one night I just happened to be out for a walk and the entire song just came to me. I thought maybe that's a better way to get the message out there and we used that concept in the music video. We even brought a large dog along, let people get close and pet the dog and then showed them canines caught in traps to get a bigger reaction out of them.

What has been the reaction?

We've received a very positive reaction from people. There's a movement against the fur industry all across the world, connected to the wider animal rights movement so people in different countries who've had a chance to see it have become active promoters of the video. I was really surprised the issue was so important in Israel. But there's a movement there to ban fur entirely. There's a bill that's gone through three readings in Parliament and I've been in touch with the person who started that movement who has been spreading the video as well.   

What were the challenges?

With this, and with a lot of animal rights issues, one of the biggest dilemmas you face is that in order to tell the truth about the issue you might have to show some graphic imagery. In order for people to understand what's really happening to the animals you have to show them that way. But the problem is that when people see that, a lot of people can't handle those images and a lot of people don't want to share them because they're afraid of making their friends sad or depressed.

It’s that fine line. If you don't show any of the animal cruelty at all, then people might think fur isn't a big deal, are they really hurting animals and so on. I try to walk a very thin line of emphasizing more of the cuteness, because we all know humour and cuteness tend to go viral on YouTube. It's a good aspect of human nature that people want to share stuff that make their friends laugh, smile, say "aw." And that's why we put some really cute dogs in the video. We tried to put more of that imagery as opposed to the cruelty. And then we made an uncensored version, which has some really awful clips. I wouldn't recommend anyone who cares about animals to watch that unless they have a fur coat because it shows some really terrible things.

What advice would you give to other animal rights activists trying to go viral?

Look at what works on YouTube. A lot of activists have this idea that we have to be a part of the counter culture or that we have to be different than what's popular in the mainstream. But what's popular in the mainstream is that way for a reason. There's a reason why hilarious videos get everywhere, there's a reason why cute animal videos get everywhere. I would say, look at the most viral videos out there and just study them. Look at what's successful about it. There's just a lot to learn from everyone. Some people want to look like the rebel, thinking they can't look too mainstream. I say throw that out the window, we're trying to save animals lives. We have to go with what works.

You can find more of Gaiaisi's music on his website.

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