PETA’s Latest “Drive-By” Campaign, Free Speech or Dangerous Harassment?

It’s no secret that academic institutions conduct a significant share of the world’s health research. It is also common knowledge that colleges and universities have a strong commitment to free speech and open dialogue. However, in the era of fake news, alternative facts and increasing division, are there limits? When does free speech cross the line and become harassment? Is a person or group free from blame if their speech contradicts established data or worse yet, leads to menacing acts or violence?

PETA billboard 8 18 copy
PETA billboard near the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Image: Twitter.

These questions will likely come up in the days and weeks ahead in response to a newly-launched PETA campaign targeting America’s seven National Primate Research Centers. Last week, the animal rights group placed a billboard near the Yerkes primate center. The billboard – shown above –  openly accuses researchers who study animals of murder. As is almost always the case, PETA issued a press release to announce their new campaign. In doing so, they shared plans to place similar outdoor advertising near all of the primate centers. They then followed through on that promise…at least partially.

PETA’s new Madison, Wisconsin bus ad. Image: Twitter.

Scientists and staff at the University of Wisconsin learned this week that PETA is launching bus ads, similar in design to the Yerkes billboard campaign. The above photo, which was posted by PETA on Twitter, shows you what the bus (or buses) will look like. The university posted their response right away, on their web site focused on the use of animals in research.

This is not the first time that PETA has targeted UW researchers and staff in this way. Back in 2013, we told you about another billboard campaign targeting research on hear ing disorders taking place in cats. This blog post explains what that was all about and also provides information on the goals and achievements of the research in question.

Of course, things have changed significantly in the past five years. For instance, we know that at times, emotionally-charged misinformation campaigns can have serious consequences.  For example, consider the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, the outrageous claim that a Washington D.C. pizzeria was the site of a child trafficking ring led by Hillary Clinton and John Podesta. In that case, the false story was spread via social media and far-right news websites and caused a North Carolina man to travel to the restaurant, where he opened fire with an assault weapon. Amazingly, no one was hurt.

Another example of the toxic power of misinformation campaigns is the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting conspiracy theory. In that case, Alex Jones of Infowars spread misinformation that the school shooting – which lead to the deaths of 26 people, most of whom were children – was a hoax. In response to the lies, those who had lost children or other family members have been harassed and taunted repeatedly for several years.

With all that in mind, here are a few questions worth considering:

  1. Should PETA’s ads be considered protected free speech?
  2. PETA’s ads claim there is “a better way.” However, in reality, there are many critical  research areas where no non-animal alternatives exist. This means that PETA is not being truthful with the public. Therefore, do advertising companies have an obligation to prevent the spread of false information?
  3. Finally, how should public institutions react when faced with challenges like these?

Feel free to share your thoughts below in the comments section.

15 thoughts on “PETA’s Latest “Drive-By” Campaign, Free Speech or Dangerous Harassment?

  1. You may not like it, it may suck but yes, it is free speech. Misinformation? Come on, if religious groups can put up billboards saying Jesus is the only way to salvation or whatever other BS they spew, that is misinformation and PETA has every right as long as it is legal and paid for to put up this. Some people are right, the age of free speech is going away with everyone being offended by everything and everything being censored the second someone cries about it.

  2. 1. I totally support free speech, but that doesn’t entitle anyone or any group to publicly make false accusations. That is against the law but it’s up to the accused to take legal action. If everyone accused by PeTA took them to court for false accusations and defamation PeTA (the small “e” is the disclaimer) would run out of money and give up. Those who have fought back have won.

    2. I don’t think PeTA can be held to account for honesty: lies are told in the selling of nearly everything, especially ideology. But you can launch an honest campaign against them in defense. A big billboard pointing out their hypocrisy and lies would damage their reputation and prevent them getting the support they expect.

    3. Since PeTA are indoctrinating children, try to get in first. Get kids to understand the importance of animal research, and the care taken to prevent the animals suffering. Talks/films in schools, school visits to labs, essay/art competitions with good prizes, stickers: fight the lies with the truth.

  3. The PETA statement rather suggests that scientists go around looking for some animal to kill, then when they achieve this, they claim it was a scientific experiment. I do not think for a moment that even they believe this. Secondly, whoever photographed that monkey was causing distress to it, as one can tell from its facial expression. I do not suppose it might have been a friendly PETA activist? Finally, in its next campaign, I propose PETA should stand by the doors of veterinary practices with warnings that treating sick animals using scientific methods is murder.

  4. Carl Sagan asked, “How much do they have to be like us for killing them to be murder?” This is murder. It must end.

  5. In cases of severe cruelty and suffering of animals in labs, yes it is murder. If living conditions of these animals are good and the up most care and respect are shown towards the animals then the word murder shouldn’t be used.

    1. PETA DOES NOT spread false information. It is deplorable that you claim that PETA is not truthful. Millions of animals suffer in labs every single day: often for unnecessary research. Furthermore, many animals are abused in laboratories. PETA does the important work of holding animal abusers accountable.

      1. Why don’t they hold themselves accountable, then, considering how many animals are killed each year in their so-called “shelter” in Virginia? Huh? Got an answer for that one?

    2. Wonderful! I love it! These lesser beings need our protection from sometimes needless experimentation! These are sentient beings for crying out loud, they’re perfectly capable of feeling pain, sadness, love, etc. It’s totally and completely evil to experiment on a innocent and feeling creature!

  6. pretty easy put up some billboards your self.. ones that show your accomplishments..go on the offense..

    1. Just count the people visiting hospitals and veterinary practices. Then count the people visiting PETA offices for information about the health of animals or people. I have no time to do this myself and I know what the result will look like.

  7. It is free speech…But think of it this way…people will react differently to will reinforce the opinion, once again, that PETA people are extremists in their cause…

    1. Indeed. And in the name of free speech and counteracting outrageously fake claims, the nearest available billboard should bear a photo of PETA’s piles of dead dogs, and the caption, “PETA knows all about murder.” And a link to

      1. This🖕 PETAs goal is to end animal ownership of any kind, and yet there are those that still believe they exist to save animals. Nothing could be further from the truth.

      2. yes they kill almost every animal they put their hands on but “murder” nope if killing animals was murder PETAphiles would be in jail along with shelter workers vets etc.. however in this circumstance maybe a better approach would be to put up children whose lives have been saved by research and heck your dog would not be able to have a rabies shot if PETA had their way.. show it to the people research benefits BOTH animals and man put up your own media messages.. here are some to use that PETA has said use your imagination”Humans have grown like a cancer. We’re the biggest blight on the face of the earth.””Even if animal experiments did result in a cure for AIDS, of which there is no chance, I’d be against it on moral grounds.” there are many many more quotes like these
        use them

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