Hundreds Of Social Media Videos With Billions Of Views Show Wild Animals Being Tortured, Report Finds

Animal cruelty on social media platforms isn’t new, but hundreds of videos on social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube of wild animals being kept as pets in hostile environments have been going viral in the past year, a new report finds.

Videos showingA report by the Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition(SMACC) shows that wild animals are abused and kept in captivity on platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook. This is according to billions of people. Between September 2021 to September 2022, SMACC discovered 840 videos showing endangered wild animals, such as macaques or tigers. These videos had a total 11.8 billion viewers.

The report, which was produced by a coalition of 13 global animal protection organizations including Animals for Asia Coalition and World Animal Protection, found disturbing videos of wild animals being physically and psychologically tormented by people who are seen “slapping, hitting, biting, shaking, or knocking animals over.” Many of the videos show these wild creatures being kept as pets, which is abusive and damaging in its own right. Around 60% of the collected videos were found on Facebook, while 25% were found online on YouTube. One group of fifty volunteers collected and reported the videos to both platforms. None were removed by SMACC when they analyzed the data in October 2022.

Jen Ridings of Meta, who is a spokesperson for the company, said that they will examine the reports and take corrective action against any violative content. Meta’s policies for prohibited violent and graphic content includes explicit physical harm or abuse done to animals. Meta relies on human reviewers and technology to keep its content under control. It does not have any policy regarding wild animals that are kept as pets.

TikTok reacted by citing its community guidelines which prohibit content that encourages illegal wildlife trade or animal cruelty. YouTube’s policies prohibit content that show deliberate physical harm to animals, according to YouTube spokesperson Jack Malon. “While the videos provided by SME don’t violate our policies, we’re committed to removing any content that violates our Community Guidelines,” Malon told SMEIn an email

These videos included 64 percent of endangered species, as determined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“What may look like a loving owner feeding their pet tiger with milk, what they are seeing is actually an endangered species who has and will suffer immensely.”

Nicola O’Brien, lead coordinator at Asia for Animals Coalition

This is due to the fact that social media platforms have not given these videos the priority they deserve and lack of education on the negative psychological consequences of keeping wild animals as pets. These videos are spread billions of time, with algorithms from many social media companies further encouraging their popularity. Users tend to think such content is “cute,” but research shows these videos have encouraged other viewers to buy wild animals (legally or illegally) and keep them as pets.

The SMACC report revealed that slow lorises were becoming more popular as pet pets due to social media. “Like all wild animals, these endangered primates are completely unsuited to life as domestic pets,” said Alan Night, president of International Animal Rescue, who was quoted in the report. “Before they are sold, lorises suffer the agony of having their teeth cut out with nail clippers or wire cutters to render them defenseless.”

Researcher and SMACC lead coordinator Nicola O’Brien says that while deliberate physical abuse and torture is easily recognizable, psychological abuse such as teasing, frightening or dressing wild animals as humans is much more subtle and often goes unnoticed. One Facebook video showed someone hanging a macaque from a balcony. Another video shows a baby macaque being repeatedly thrown in the ocean and then swimming back towards its owner. In a popular Facebook video with 26 million views, macaques are seen jumping around, scared, after they’ve been threatened by their owners.

“What may look like a loving owner feeding their pet tiger with milk, what they are seeing is actually an endangered species who has and will suffer immensely,” O’Brien says. “Obtaining these animals supports a dangerous and often illegal worldwide trade, threatening animal welfare and endangered species protection.”

According to the report, wild animals can often be advertised and bought or sold via social media and encrypted communications platforms such as Snapchat and WhatsApp. For illegal sale of wild animals, traffickers often turn to groups that are private on social media sites like Facebook. According to Catherine Semcer (a researcher fellow at Property and Environment Research Center), wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest illicit industry in the world. She claims that wildlife trafficking is still taking place in darker areas of social networking, despite the intolerance of law enforcement agencies.

“To date, I haven’t seen any sufficient, you know, relationships being developed between the social media companies and the law enforcement community to tackle the problem of wildlife trafficking,” Semcer says.

It isn’t a new problem to see animal abuse videos posted on social media. A number of reports have been published by the coalition about various aspects animal abuse via social media. This includes an investigation into fake rescue videos where animals are intentionally placed in unsafe situations to make it appear that they were rescued.

SMACC claims that Meta has worked with them over a period of a year. They began to work together in June 2022 on flagging footage that depicts pet macaques or captured primates and teaching moderators how they can identify false rescue videos. TikTok began work alongside SMACC in August 2022.

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

Catherine E. Semcer Research Fellow at Property and Environment Research Center

Nina Jackel sued YouTube in October 2021 for exploiting animals on YouTube and making a profit from the videos. Lady Freethinker examined 2,000 YouTube videos in 2020 that depicted cruel and inhumane behavior towards animals. These videos, most of which violated YouTube’s community guidelines, had more than 1 billion views. Lady Freethinker says these videos have helped YouTube creators earn $15 million while YouTube made $12 million. Jackel claims that the nonprofit tried to reach YouTube with its findings but received no response. This led to the lawsuit.

“We focus on finding and reporting YouTube channels with lots of followers such as those that showed baby monkeys in captivity. And we found that YouTube plays ads at the beginning of these videos very often, so YouTube is definitely making money on them,” Jackel told SME.

O’Brien from SMACC is hopeful that social media giants like YouTube and Meta will begin to take responsibility for the bulk of animal abuse videos on their platform and also take down videos that not only show blatant physical abuse but are also harmful for wild animals in more subtle, psychological ways.

“There are moments where I do find it very difficult and frustrating. Progress can be really really slow while animal abuse videos have been growing at a faster rate” she says.

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