Hundreds of social media videos with billions of views show wild animals being tortured, report says

Animal cruelty on social media platforms is nothing new, but hundreds of videos on social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube of wild animals being kept as pets in hostile environments have gone viral over the past of the past year, according to a new report.


Videas showing wild animals abused and kept as pets are receiving billions of views on social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, according to a report by the Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition (SMACC). Between September 2021 and September 2022, SMACC found 840 videos depicting endangered wildlife such as macaques, tigers and lions being physically and psychologically tormented by humans with a total of 11.8 billion views.

The report, which was produced by a coalition of 13 global animal welfare organisations, found disturbing videos of wild animals being physically and psychologically tormented by people who are seen ‘slapping, hitting, biting, shaking or knocking animals down’ “. Many videos show these wild creatures being kept as pets, which is abusive and damaging in itself. Of the videos collected, approximately 60% were found on Facebook and 25% on YouTube. A group of 50 volunteers who collected the videos also reported them to the platforms, but none were taken down by the time SMACC analyzed the data in October 2022.

Jen Ridings, a spokeswoman for Meta, responded to the report saying the company would review the content and take action against non-compliant content. Meta’s policies regarding prohibited violent and graphic content include explicit physical harm or animal abuse. However, the company, which relies on community reports, technology and human reviewers to monitor content, has no policy regarding content showing wild animals as pets.

TikTok responded by citing its own community guidelines, which prohibit content promoting the illegal wildlife trade and animal cruelty. YouTube policies prohibit content that shows deliberate physical harm to animals, according to YouTube spokesperson Jack Malon. “While the videos provided by Forbes do not violate our policies, we are committed to removing any content that violates our community guidelines,” Malon said. Forbes in an email.

Sixty-four percent of those videos featured endangered species as defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, including baby macaques and slow lorises.

“What may look like a loving owner feeding his pet tiger milk, what he sees is actually an endangered species that has suffered and will suffer greatly.”

Nicola O’Brien, Senior Coordinator, Asia Coalition for Animals

With a lack of prioritization from social media giants and a lack of education about the harmful psychological effects of owning wild animals as pets, these videos are shared billions of times, the algorithms of social media companies social media further promoting their dissemination. Users tend to think such content is “cute”, but research shows that these videos have encouraged other viewers to buy wild animals (legally or illegally) and keep them as pets.

In particular, the SMACC report found that social media played a role in increasing the demand for slow lorises as pets. “Like all wild animals, these endangered primates are completely unsuited to life as pets,” said Alan Night, president of International Animal Rescue, quoted in the report. “Before being sold, lorises suffer the agony of having their teeth cut with nail clippers or wire cutters to render them defenseless.”

SMACC senior researcher and coordinator Nicola O’Brien says that while deliberate physical abuse and torture are easily recognizable, psychological abuse such as teasing, scaring or dressing wild animals like humans is much more subtle and often happens. unnoticed. For example, a video on Facebook showed someone dangling a macaque over a balcony. In another, a baby pet macaque is repeatedly thrown into the sea and is seen swimming towards the human. In a popular Facebook video with 26 million views, macaques are seen jumping around in fright after being threatened by their owners.

“What may look like a loving owner feeding his pet tiger milk, what he sees is actually an endangered species that has suffered and will suffer greatly,” says O’Brien. “Obtaining these animals supports a dangerous and often illegal global trade, threatening animal welfare and the protection of endangered species.”

According to the report, wild animals are often advertised, bought and sold on social media platforms and end-to-end encrypted communication platforms like Snapchat and WhatsApp. Traffickers use private groups on social media platforms like Facebook to illegally sell wild animals. As the world’s fourth-largest illicit economy, wildlife trafficking has quickly transformed into digital spaces such as social media, says Catherine Semcer, a research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center. Despite intolerance from law enforcement and violation of social media guidelines, wildlife trafficking continues to occur in the darker recesses of social media, she says.

“To date, I haven’t seen enough relationships, you know, develop between social media companies and the law enforcement community to tackle the problem of wildlife trafficking,” says Sow.

Animal abuse videos on social media are not a new problem. The coalition has published several reports on various aspects of animal abuse on social media, including an investigation into a trend of fake rescue videos, in which animals are deliberately placed in dangerous situations so that they can be falsely saved for a video.

SMACC says Meta has been working with the nonprofit for more than a year, and in June 2022 he began working on reporting content that shows captured primates as pet macaques and training them. their moderators to identify fake rescue videos. TikTok has also started preliminary work with SMACC since August 2022.

“To date, I haven’t seen enough relationships, you know, develop between social media companies and the law enforcement community to tackle the problem of wildlife trafficking.”

Catherine E. Semcer, research fellow at the Real Estate and Environment Research Center

In October 2021, Nina Jackel, the founder of animal cruelty nonprofit Lady Freethinker, sued YouTube for exploiting animals featured in YouTube videos and profiting from them rather than shoot them down. In 2020, Lady Freethinker investigated and found 2,000 YouTube videos, which depicted harmful behavior towards animals. These videos, most of which violated YouTube’s community guidelines, have been viewed more than a billion times. Lady Freethinker estimates that these videos helped YouTube creators earn $15 million and YouTube itself book $12 million. The nonprofit contacted YouTube with the report’s findings but received no response, prompting the lawsuit, Jackel said.

“We focus on finding and reporting YouTube channels with a lot of subscribers, such as those that showed baby monkeys in captivity. And we found that YouTube runs ads very often at the beginning of those videos, so YouTube definitely wins money from them,” Jackel said. Forbes.

SMACC’s O’Brien hopes social media giants like YouTube and Meta will start taking responsibility for the bulk of animal abuse videos on their platform and also remove videos that not only show physical abuse. obvious, but are also harmful to wild animals in more subtle psychological ways.

“There are times when I find it very difficult and frustrating. Progress can be really slow as animal abuse videos have increased at a faster rate,” she says.

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