What to do if you see animal abuse online or shared on social media

March 02, 2019

WARNING: This post contains graphic content – screenshots of a Snapchat video in which a group of young males allegedly ran down a kangaroo and then stabbed it with a knife and burned it with a cigarette. 

We’ve all indulged in the cute animal videos circulating the internet, but what would you do if you come across a video or post depicting animal cruelty on social media?

Here at RSPCA South Australia, social media is playing an increasing role in animal cruelty investigations.

But what actually is social media and how is it affecting reports of animal cruelty?

Animal abusers post the graphic images of their actions on social media

Social media: the cute and the cruel

According to a 2018 article in the Journal of Computer Information Systems, social media is online sharing platforms that allow communication and multi-media posts such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.

In other words, it is a way for people to communicate, share and discuss information and images, including photos and videos.

Some people use social media to report acts of animal cruelty, and sometimes even the perpetrators of animal cruelty post what they have done to animals online in some perverted attempt to get attention.

Cruel posts are a perverted attempt to get attention

A mouse brutally beaten, a kangaroo stabbed – posted online for sick entertainment

Whatever the motives are for posting images and information about animal cruelty online, it usually comes to the attention of RSPCA.

Some of the most recent cases in South Australia involving social media include images posted on Facebook of a teenager killing a mouse by hitting it with a tennis racket into a wall.

RSPCA South Australia was also alerted when a video posted on Snapchat showed a kangaroo that had been deliberately run over, stabbed and had cigarettes poked into its eyes.

Screenshots of a Snapchat video depicting a kangaroo being tortured by four young men

‘You have to wonder at the mental state’

RSPCA South Australia Chief Inspector Andrea Lewis said it was alarming and shocking to see the videos.

“It always shocks me to think of someone standing by with their mobile phone, filming an animal being abused,” Chief Inspector Andrea Lewis said.

“You have to wonder at the mental state of not only the perpetrator, but the witness who is filming – unless they are filming with the intent of providing it to us as evidence because they feel powerless to stop what’s happening.”

Another deeply disturbing Facebook post depicted an adult male kicking and punching a dog.

The marsupial was run over, burned and stamped on

RSPCA patrols the street and now the online community

Social media can actually be used positively as a way of alerting the public and informing the RSPCA of animal cruelty acts and investigations though.

While some animal abusers exploit social media as a way of promoting their acts, it has also helped with some cruelty investigations.

“Most people are horrified by images of animal cruelty and suffering, so when these kinds of incidents are posted online we’re inundated with calls and emails from people claiming they know the perpetrators,” Ms Lewis said.

Social media can help with some investigations

‘We wouldn’t be able to do anything about it if we don’t have the evidence’

We spoke to RSPCA South Australia Inspector Kristy Adams to find out what she recommends people to do if they see a case of animal cruelty online.

“Screenshot it and keep a copy of it and then send it in to us,” Inspector Adams said.

“We wouldn’t be able to anything about it if we don’t have the evidence of it occurring.

“Try to include a person’s name, dates of the video or take screenshots of comments posted to the media files because people delete things or take them down so quickly.

“We can then use that to track down a person and investigate the issue.”

You can help us create a case against abusers

By keeping as much information about the post as possible prosecutors will then have more established evidence that they could possibly use in court.

The RSPCA follows normal investigative proceedings with reports on social media by trying to find the person involved, an address or friends and family.

Depending on the extent of the animal cruelty depicted, Inspector Adams said RSPCA can also call in a forensic analyst to help investigate the social media post and identify who is responsible for it.

It is important to remember, however, that RSPCA South Australia only has nine inspectors and not all reported cases can be linked to a culprit or provide strong enough leads for follow ups.

Help us to end animal abuse

It’s time to start stopping these people

RSPCA South Australia content marketing coordinator Koren Helbig says social media can be a huge force for good.

“For us as an organisation, it’s a way to help find loving forever homes for our animals, share news about animal welfare issues happening in our state and galvanise the community to support animal rights.

“It’s horrifying to think there is a culture of people filming animal cruelty for fun though.

“But it means that our inspectors have a better chance of hunting them down – because if the cruelty offenders weren’t standing there filming their actions, there’d be no way to ever follow it up.

“It is important to remember though that we legally can’t accept submissions of evidence over Facebook message so we always direct people to our animal cruelty hotline or online cruelty report.”

The RSPCA can’t legally accept evidence over Facebook

Acts of cruelty are going unpunished due to insufficient evidence

One downside to social media is that it’s often difficult to establish who is committing the offence – or if the incident even occurred in South Australia.

“If we can’t establish that an offence has been committed in South Australia or trace it back to someone then unfortunately there’s nothing we can do,” Inspector Adams said.

Adds Chief Inspector Lewis: “In some instances online reports have enabled us to identify the perpetrators, although some of leads take up a lot of our time but go nowhere.

“Sadly, it can take time to identify the source of images posted online and gather sufficient information to investigate.”

Inspector Coordinator Kay McLeod said it’s just the same as the police, if there’s no evidence or leads there’s no case.

You can capture and record useful evidence

The top things you need to record when reporting online animal cruelty

Smartphones are now a commonly carried item allowing people to provide more evidence of animal cruelty or abuse incidents by quickly filming and photographing evidence.

If you are trying to capture scenes of animal abuse for a report, Inspector Coordinator Kay recommended trying to film as many identifying factors and landmarks from the incident.

Look out for names, locations or an address, contact details or identifying features like a school uniform, car registration plate, nearby shop, restaurant or house to put a location on the evidence.

The hardest thing Kay experiences is when she receives a video depicting animal cruelty or violence but the offender is not actually in the frame, which means no claim that someone has committed a crime can be made.

Help us by sharing and spreading the word to #endanimalabuse online

Share and spread the word over social media today to stop animal abuse

Of course, social media is also a valuable tool for sharing information and raising awareness about animal welfare issues.

For example a recent video about the dangers of jumps racing posted on Facebook by RSPCA South Australia has reached over 500 views. Visit our Facebook page here for more updates.

If you notice an animal in distress, please immediately call our 24-hour hotline on 1300 4 777 22 or report a case here. Our dedicated team of inspectors are funded entirely by community donations. Support their fight and help them be there when animals need us most here.

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