A coalition of animal welfare organizations is urging peers to make amendments to the UK’s Online Safety Bill in response to the increasing practice of animal torture being filmed and shared on social media. In recent months, a growing number of “horrific and graphic” videos and images of baby monkeys being abused and even killed have been posted online. Many of these clips that were previously only circulated on private Telegram groups have now started appearing on popular social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram.
At least six Facebook groups, some public and some private, feature “extreme and graphic videos” showing animal abuse. The largest of these groups has 1,300 members, who openly promote the videos and leave comments. Action for Primates, a nonprofit organization, and dozens of other animal protection groups are lobbying for animal cruelty content to be included in the Online Safety Bill. The proposed legislation aims to protect people by forcing social media platforms to remove content that promotes self-harm and age-inappropriate content. Platforms must also block content showing child sex abuse, extreme sexual violence, fraud, and hate crime. However, the Bill does not cover animal abuse.
Sarah Kite, co-founder of Action for Primates, said that filmmakers carry out examples of animal torture that include clamping an infant monkey’s body with pliers, using lit cigarettes to burn a baby monkey tied to a cage, setting parts of an infant monkey’s body alight, ensnaring monkeys into plastic bottles, and setting dogs on them. There are also clips of primates being run over by traffic. The Independent has seen even more horrific examples of these videos, with users posting “laughing” emojis.
“These people are currently operating in plain sight, unlike the Telegram groups, and the number of groups and members are increasing,” Ms. Kite said. “Many of the members and moderators are using their real names, and although most seem to be from the US, there are also some here in the UK. This is a disturbing escalation in online content showing graphic and violent images of monkeys being abused, tortured and killed for ‘entertainment’. It is truly horrific.”
The coalition, which includes the Wildlife and Countryside Link, whose members include big-name organizations such as Born Free, is lobbying for animal cruelty content to be included in the Online Safety Bill. The coalition is urging members of the House of Lords to back amendments by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara that would force social media platforms to remove videos of animal torture.
The easy accessibility of such material is likely to cause children considerable psychological distress and harm, according to the coalition. In 2018, the RSPCA found that 23% of children had seen animal cruelty or neglect on social media. Ms. Kite said, “Online platforms have failed to effectively police or enforce their own guidelines, and self-regulation is not working. Effective legislation is required to stop this harmful content. We urge the government to include animal cruelty content in the scope of the Bill.”
A government spokesperson said: “The Bill will tackle some online activities related to animal cruelty, including where that content amounts to an existing offense, such as extreme pornography, or where it could cause psychological harm to children.” Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, removed some of the groups involved after The Independent asked for comments. A spokesperson for the company said, “We investigated the groups brought to our attention and removed content that violated our community standards. We do not allow animal cruelty on our platforms, and we remove this type of content when we find it. We also encourage users to report this content to us using the tools on our platforms so that our teams can investigate and take action.”
The growing trend of animal torture videos being shared on social media platforms is disturbing and concerning. Such content is likely to cause significant psychological harm to children and adults alike, and it is vital that the government takes action to prevent it. While the Online Safety Bill is a positive step towards addressing harmful content on social media, it is crucial that animal cruelty content is also included. The coalition of animal welfare organizations is right to lobby for amendments to the Bill to ensure that animal abuse is not overlooked.
It is also crucial for social media platforms to take responsibility and enforce their own guidelines on animal cruelty content. While Facebook and Instagram have removed some of the groups involved, it is clear that more needs to be done to prevent such content from being posted and shared in the first place. Users must be encouraged to report any animal cruelty content that they come across, and platforms must take swift action to remove it.
It is essential to recognize the importance of protecting animals from cruelty and abuse. It is not only a moral obligation but also a legal one. In the UK, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it an offense to cause unnecessary suffering to animals. The law also applies to online content, and those who share videos or images of animal abuse can face criminal charges. Therefore, including animal cruelty content in the Online Safety Bill would not only help to prevent harm to animals but also ensure that those who share such content are held accountable.