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Animal cruelty content “harmful to viewers” and should be prohibited under new UK online safety laws

Badger Trust supports a coalition to end the sharing of cruel badger baiting online.


A group of animal protection experts have warned that content on social media depicting animal abuse harms vulnerable adults and children as well as animals, and should not be ignored in government development of the new UK Online Safety bill.


The bill, which aims to protect children and vulnerable people from “illegal” or “harmful” content, will place more responsibility on social media companies to moderate and restrict such content on their platforms.


Currently, the proposed bill does not include content depicting the abuse of animals. However, animal experts warn this would be a major failing by the government, arguing such content often shows illegal acts while also having a damaging impact on the young people who watch it.


The coalition, including the Wildlife and Countryside Link, Badger Trust, the AfA Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition, the Alliance to Counter Crime Online, the Parrot Trust, and World Animal Protection, has written to the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan MP, urging her to make amendments to the bill as it goes through the final stages of development.


Various animal abuse videos have been documented by animal experts. Some of the worst depict animals tied up, hit, burnt with cigarettes, crushed under heavy stones and objects, mutilated while still alive, and drowned. These abuses include badger baiting – an activity not only illegal in the UK under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 but harmful to viewers.



Badger baiting on social media promotes violence


Badger baiting on social media is a serious issue, with online platforms facilitating sharing of information about badger persecution crime. The sharing of videos, images and commentary of badger baiting not only promotes and normalises violence towards protected wildlife and domestic animals, but the sharing of information online facilitates the organisation of these illegal activities and puts young people at risk. Given the interconnection between badger baiting and violent crimes against humans, the inclusion of badger baiting in the Online Safety Bill will target several sections concerning illegal and harmful content shared online.


Badger Trust’s Executive Director, Peter Hambly, commented:


“The inclusion of badger baiting and cruelty towards badgers and dogs in the scope of the Online Safety Bill is desperately needed as the filming and sharing of this type of activity has increased with frightening speed.


It is so cruel to the badger and the dog, but also to the viewers, many of whom are children.

The inclusion would further advance the government’s commitment to prioritising badger persecution and cyber-enabled wildlife crime as wildlife crime priorities, whilst demonstrating their obligations to the Bern Convention, the international treaty to which badgers are listed in Appendix III as a protected species.”


23% of 10 to 18-year-olds witness animal cruelty or neglect online


Polling commissioned by the RSPCA in 2018 found that 23% of schoolchildren aged 10-18 years had witnessed animal cruelty or neglect on social media, concluding that “Young children are being exposed to horrific incidents of animal suffering online in ways previous generations have simply not experienced’’.


Psychology experts have found that “there is emerging evidence that childhood exposure to maltreatment of companion animals is associated with psychopathology in childhood and adulthood’’. Children can go on to become animal abusers themselves, as shown in a study published in 2018 that suggested that children who witness animal cruelty are 3-8 times more likely to abuse animals themselves. Another stated, ‘‘witnessing animal abuse normalises the behaviour for the observer, potentially translating to a perception that such acts are socially acceptable’’.


Social media companies remove fewer than 50% of user-reported animal cruelty links


Many social media companies do have policies prohibiting content depicting animal abuse on their platform. However, data collected by Asia for Animals Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition (SMACC) since March 2021, indicate that fewer than 50% of links showing animal cruelty are removed by platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok after being reported by users.


Group representative Nicola O’Brien, Lead Coordinator of the Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition (SMACC), said:


“Social media platforms are frankly just not doing enough to deal with the vast amount of content that perpetuates animal cruelty on their platforms.


“Despite having some policies prohibiting animal cruelty content on the platforms, this content is readily available to social media users. Therefore platforms need to be held to account to ensure they enforce their own policies to protect animals and users alike.”


Further information:


The Online Safety Bill





Relevant Studies


Published SMACC reports:


Badger crime concerns:



RSPCA data:



Studies showing the impact on children of witnessing animal abuse:


Organisations


SMACC


The AfA Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition (SMACC) is composed of 19 well-known and respected animal advocacy organisations that share the aim of stopping the proliferation of animal cruelty content on social media platforms. Social media giants continue to facilitate the sharing, promotion and even monetisation of cruelty content, resulting in astronomical numbers of likes, follows and views for animal suffering and abuse ranging from the subtle to the extreme. SMACC is a collaboration by various members of the Asia for Animals Coalition network:




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