Direct Action Everywhere Uses VR to Take Viewers Inside Factory Farms

Maria J. Danford

WIRED senior writer Andy Greenberg didn’t know quite what to expect when Wayne Hsiung, an attorney and animal rights activist, handed him an Oculus headset in his Berkeley home back in the summer of 2019. What he saw, Greenberg said, made the hairs on the back of his neck stand […]

WIRED senior writer Andy Greenberg didn’t know quite what to expect when Wayne Hsiung, an attorney and animal rights activist, handed him an Oculus headset in his Berkeley home back in the summer of 2019. What he saw, Greenberg said, made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

Hsiung wanted Greenberg to experience, in 360 degrees, “Operation Deathstar”—the name Hsiung and his animal rights group, Direct Action Everywhere, assigned one of their most ambitious projects to date. Hsiung and his team infiltrated a massive pig farm in southwest Utah in an effort to disprove the farm’s claims that they were keeping pregnant sows in humane quarters. They not only broke in and captured footage; they did it equipped with a sophisticated stereoscopic camera rig. Their idea was that if the public experienced the realities of pig farming in an immersive, can’t-look-away video, it would be much more convincing than watching a grainy, flat video that pops up on your Facebook feed.

Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE as it’s known, is radical in a few different ways. They’re meat abolitionists: They don’t believe in using animals for food using “pasture-raised” or “cage-free” methods that aim to reduce suffering, but in ending animal agriculture entirely. It’s not what you’d call an incrementalist approach. Their embrace of technology, and their willingness to be identified after these missions, also sets them apart from other activist groups. But do these kinds of stunts ultimately have the impact that Hsiung and his team are looking for? Is VR accessible enough to the average person that it makes sense as a tool? And what does DxE’s approach say about the future of animal rights activism—or any form of active resistance?

Greenberg’s story of DxE’s virtual-reality animal-liberation operations first published in WIRED in 2019. Now, in this two-part series on the Get WIRED podcast, we take you inside the farms with DxE and cover some of the group’s more recent, even bolder initiatives. You won’t want to miss it.

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