PETA had the opportunity to ask James Townshend, creator of AnimalMatters.org and longtime animal activist, questions about his website, online activism, and what inspires him to speak out for animals.
PETA: What sparked your interest in animal rights, and how old were you when that journey began?
James Townshend: I’m an only child, so when I was growing up, I spent a lot of time playing with our cats and dogs. What really got me interested in working to promote animal welfare was learning about the extent of the companion-animal homelessness problem. Then, I went on to learn about the treatment of animals on industrial farms and in laboratories and the extent of trophy hunting and wildlife extinction. I first became involved in promoting animal welfare in 1995, when I created a small website for a local animal shelter on a volunteer basis. That was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
PETA: When did you become vegan, and why?
JT: I became vegan last year. I had previously been vegetarian for a number of years. I simply didn’t want animals to have to suffer or die on my account. I was also concerned about the detrimental effects on the environment and the health risks associated with eating animal “products.”
PETA: Tell us about your most memorable activist experience.
JT: No one experience comes to mind, but one of the things that has been most memorable for me has been seeing people adopt animals they learned about from one of the websites I’ve created rather than purchasing animals from a pet store.
PETA: What prompted you to launch AnimalMatters.org?
JT: I launched Animal Matters because I wanted to address the welfare of animals of all kinds—not just companion animals or wildlife or animals on factory farms or in laboratories—and do so by directly reaching out to people throughout the world and letting them know what they could do to help. I wanted to inform and motivate.
PETA: Tell us more about your site.
JT: The Animal Matters website is a portal site. There is a lot of information presented on the site itself, but there are also many links to pages on other sites that offer information about issues and ways in which people can help. The site is updated every day—including weekends. We are also very active on social media—especially Facebook. In total, we reach approximately 300,000 people per day.
PETA: Why online activism?
JT: Online activism is an extremely cost-effective way of reaching people. For example, on Facebook, I can spend only a few minutes creating a post and reach tens of thousands of people with it.
PETA: We see that Animal Matters has a big social media following—congratulations! What are some of your favorite interactions that you’ve had with followers?
JT: A number of people have sent messages saying that they were going to stop eating meat in response to material we posted. That always feels good. Other people have said they were going to look into cruelty-free cosmetics, stop wearing leather, start volunteering at a local shelter—the list goes on. Someday, I hope to get messages from trophy hunters saying that they are going to lay down their arms.
PETA: Do you have advice for people who are drawn to online animal rights activism—and want to do more—yet don’t have the background or time to start their own website?
JT: Responding to social media posts in some way—liking, commenting, sharing, etc.—takes very little time and helps to spread the word. The more responses there are to posts, the more people will see them.