Social Media Trends Are Encouraging Animal Abuse In Viral Videos, Review Finds

Social media is encouraging cases of animal cruelty, with trends driven by viral videos motivating some content creators to bring wild animals into their channels. That’s the message from the Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition (SMACC) following research conducted as part of a coalition with 13 animal protection organizations. The […]

Social media is encouraging cases of animal cruelty, with trends driven by viral videos motivating some content creators to bring wild animals into their channels. That’s the message from the Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition (SMACC) following research conducted as part of a coalition with 13 animal protection organizations.

The Asia for Animals SMAC Coalition looked at videos across Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter between 2021 and 2022, amounting to 840 videos. They detected at least 97 species being kept as pets, including endangered spider monkeys, long-tailed macaques, tigers and orangutans.

It only takes a short search online to find videos of lion cubs in nappies or on leashes, and monkeys wearing clothes or being given inappropriate foods. While some of the less harmful genres might on the surface be entertaining, the fact is that these behaviors are unnatural and often misunderstood, as was the case in those slow loris “tickling” videos.

slow loris viral video

Slow lorises were thought to be raising their arms to be tickled, but it’s actually a defence mechanism as they have venomous glands on their elbows. Images courtesy of International Animal Rescue

“Before they are sold, lorises suffer the agony of having their teeth cut out with nail clippers or wire cutters to render them defenseless,” said Alan Knight OBE, President of International Animal Rescue, in a statement sent to IFLScience.

 “The seemingly cute sight of a loris raising its arms to be tickled is in reality an image of an animal desperately trying to protect itself, raising its arms to lick a toxin from the inside of its elbow and deliver a defensive, venomous bite to its captor.”

As consumers of media, we can do our part to limit the attention these videos get so that others aren’t encouraged to follow suit for likes and shares, and report those that demonstrate outright abuse.

“Most people watching on social media do not see the vast amount of cruelty that has been perpetrated against animals for that 30 second video,” said SMACC Lead Coordinator Nicola O’Brien in a statement sent to IFLScience. “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.”

“As well as the unsuitability of a human home for any wild animal causing physical and psychological damage, obtaining these animals supports a dangerous and often illegal worldwide trade, threatening animal welfare and endangered species protection. This is the vicious cycle of suffering behind these videos.”

lion cub pets
Wild animals’ “complex social, physical and behavioural needs cannot be met in a domestic environment,” – Born Free. Images courtesy of International Animal Rescue

While zoos and rehab centers sometimes release fun videos and images of animals doing entertaining things for stimulation, the crucial different here is how the animals are sourced and treated. 

Otters working away on puzzles and engaging with orangutans as a means of enrichment at an approved wildlife institution is not the same as animals, obtained from the illegal pet trade, being mistreated in an unregulated environment for the sake of a content creator’s popularity.

Beyond unnatural behaviors like playing dress up, the report also discovered many videos in which animals are being abused physically and sexually. Despite all of them being reported to the relevant platform, very few were taken down before the report’s conclusion.

“Social media platforms are frankly just not doing enough to deal with the vast amounts of content that perpetuates animal cruelty on their platforms,” said SMACC in a statement sent to IFLScience. “They rely on the public to report offending content to them and yet still do not remove it.”

“They do not do enough to automatically detect gross abuse content and uphold their own policies. What our report shows is that their inaction leads to a vicious cycle of cruelty for wild animals kept as pets, and we are urging them to stop avoiding their responsibilities and take action.”

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