Frames function to make ideas and
events meaningful, organize experience, and guide action (Snow et al., 1986),
making it a useful tool for social movement organizations. More specifically,
social movement organizations utilize three core framing tasks: (1) a diagnosis
of some event or aspect of social life as problematic and in need of
alteration; (2) a proposed solution to the diagnosed problem that specifies
what needs to be done; and (3) a call to arms or rationale for engaging in
corrective action (Snow & Benford, 1988). According to Snow and Benford
(2000), the effectiveness of these framing tasks is dependent upon two sets of
interacting factors: credibility of the frame and its relative salience.

Credibility of the frame pertains to: (1) frame
consistency – the consistency between a social movement organization’s
beliefs, claims, and actions; (2) empirical
credibility – the degree to which the collective action frames are
verifiable and culturally believable; and (3) the credibility of the frame
articulators – the perceived credibility, status, and expertise of the speaker
and/or the organization they represent. Salience pertains to: (1) Centrality – how essential the beliefs,
values, and ideas associated with movement frames are to the targets of
mobilization; (2) Experiential
commensurability – how congruent the frames are with the targets’ personal,
everyday experiences; and (3) Narrative
fidelity – the extent to which the frames resonate with the targets’
cultural narrations (Snow & Benford, 2000).

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I will begin this
analysis by organizing the identified framing patterns within the diagnostic
and prognostic categories proposed by Snow and Benford (1988). Subsequently, I
will use Snow and Benford’s (2000) work on resonance to evaluate the
effectiveness of framing tactics employed by three major animal advocacy
organizations: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Farm
Sanctuary (FS), and Humane Society of United States (HSUS).


with previous research on framing of the animal rights movement (Freeman,
2010), I identified four main “problem” frames among animal rights
organizations: (1) the suffering of animals due to cruelty,  (2) the commodification of animals as objects,
(3) the harmfulness of animal products and farming to humans and the
environment, and (4) the needless killing of animals for food. However, given
the fact that the overwhelming majority of problem frames were related to
cruelty and suffering, they will serve as the basis for my analysis of problem

and Suffering of Farmed Animals

            This was undoubtedly the most
frequently identified problem frame among all of the animal rights organizations.

“Animals rights organizations’ texts are full of visual and verbal
descriptions of land animals’ extreme mental and physical suffering in
confinement and the painful transport and slaughtering process” (Freeman,
2010, p. 8). The animal rights organizations appeared to focus on exposing the
very worst cruelties within factory farming, including intensive confinement,
immobility, bodily manipulations performed without anesthesia, high mortality
rates due to poor living conditions, and even the beating to death of animals
at the hands of workers (Freeman, 2010). In addition, several organizations
described – and even showed in videos – the slow and painful deaths that these
animals often experience, whether by bleeding out or being boiled alive.


most frequently suggested solutions proposed by animal rights organizations regarded
dietary alterations. PETA’s advocated for the immediate and total elimination
of animal products, whereas FS advocated for a gradual reduction in animal
product consumption, stating that “moving toward a plant-based diet should be a
pleasurable and fulfilling time of discovery, so take advantage of veg
resources, seek support and move at your own pace” (, 2017).

Although FS was more likely to use the term “plant-based” and “vegetarian,”
their preference for veganism was implied by their frequent condemnation of the
egg and dairy industry. However, only HSUS suggested a transition to more
“humane” animal-derived foods as a solution to the problem of animal suffering.

For instance, in an article titled “10 Ways to Live Humanely,” they listed “Look
for grocery labels that identify Certified Humane, pasture-raised, grass-fed,
free-range, or uncaged animal products” as the first step. Conversely, PETA and
FS disparaged such labels, implying that they are little more than misleading
advertising techniques designed to reduce cognitive dissonance and make us feel
better about our purchases. For example, in a FAQ reply, PETA stated that the
term ‘free-range’ “doesn’t really tell you anything about the animal’s
quality of life… For these reasons, we believe the only
humane option is to refrain from eating eggs, milk, and meat.”

second (albeit less common) solution frame involved welfare reforms for farmed
animals. Many organizations proposed government-instigated legal reforms as a
solution for reducing animal suffering. For example, on it’s webpage, Farm
Sanctuary identifies itself as an organization that advocates “for laws and
policies to prevent suffering and promote compassion.” Furthermore, they defend
these efforts by making the following six evidence-based statements: (1) Welfare reforms reduce suffering and provide
immediate good for animals; (2) The animal agriculture industry spends millions
to oppose welfare reforms, because reforms are bad for the industry; (3) Welfare
reforms are followed by a reduction in consumption of the affected animal
products; (4) Media coverage of animal welfare issues causes people to eat less
meat; and (5) Welfare reforms go hand in hand with decreased meat consumption;
People who make a small change become more likely to make a large change.

However, some organizations seem to prioritize voluntary reforms over government-based
legal reforms as a mechanism for achieving welfare reforms. As quoted in an
article in The New York Times, “PETA, in particular, has started a series of
high-profile campaigns to pressure fast-food companies to change their animal
welfare practices, including a “Murder King” campaign that ended in 2001 when
Burger King agreed to improve its animal welfare standards” (Martin, 2007).

Credibility and Salience

            As previously mentioned,
the effectiveness of collective action frames is largely dependent upon the
credibility of the frame and its relative salience. Therefore, I will use those
two sets of interacting factors, as defined by Snow and Benford (2000), to
determine how effectively PETA, FS, and HSUS are constructing their frames in
order to inspire participant mobilization.