Beyond Cute Animal Rescue Videos: Driving Factors of the Rise of Animal Cruelty Content in Social Media and How to Tackle Them
May 30, 2022 10:07 pm ||
Author: Febe Sarah
Editor: Amelinda Pandu Kusumaningtyas
If you are an active social media user, chances are you have seen a video of animal rescue or monkeys behaving like humans. These videos might seem wholesome, entertaining, and inspiring, even. But, unfortunately, research findings suggest that many animals are harmed and tortured for content. According to the Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition (SMACC) report, there are 5480 animal cruelty videos and 5,347,809,262 views on Youtube, Facebook, and Tiktok between July 2020 – August 2021. The report also found that Indonesia produced and uploaded the most content. One of Indonesia’s most common animal cruelty content is monkey hate, such as torturing or poisoning monkeys. From examining this phenomenon, it is implied that the rise of animal cruelty content is influenced by the potential profit received by content creators, weak policy enforcement against content creators by social media platforms and legal enforcers, and the lack of public awareness of the negative impacts of animal cruelty content.
Content-creating is a trendy way of earning income due to the increasing use of social media in society with a developing digital culture. Simultaneously, the competition to create unique content becomes fiercer. One of the impacts is increased animal cruelty content, where animals are exploited for human profit. To comprehensively define animal cruelty content, SMACC members established four categories of animal cruelty, from ambiguous and unintentional to obvious and intentional cruelty.
What factors drive the rise of animal cruelty content?
One crucial factor is the potential profits gained by content creators and platforms. For example, a 2020 investigation by Lady Freethinker shows that content creators profit up to $15 million and $12 million for Youtube only from displayed advertisements for videos with over 100.000 views. Many social media consumers are interested in the content, including obvious and intentional cruelty content, seen from comments of followers telling the creator to make the animal suffer more. Thus, it brings no surprise that more people are incentivized to create such content, despite the possibility of them violating existing policies or laws.
Second, weak policy enforcement contributes to this phenomenon. Some platforms (Youtube, Tiktok, Facebook) have prohibited animal cruelty content in their policies. For instance, Youtube’s Violent or Graphic Content Policy stipulates that content creators should not post animal abuse content, constituting content that encourages animal fighting, staged rescue videos, animal torture, and others. However, when the researchers in the SMACC Report reported 60 animal cruelty videos to Youtube, Youtube only removed two. The rest were ignored, despite explicitly showing animal cruelty. This shows Youtube’s lack of effort to enforce animal cruelty content creators seriously.
Furthermore, in Indonesia’s context, animal cruelty is criminalized, meaning that law enforcers can arrest animal cruelty content creators. Article 302 of the Criminal Code prohibits people from intentionally harming an animal without a reasonable objective and deliberately not providing the necessities of an animal under their care. The Code also prohibits animal exploitation in Article 540, including setting animals to work in distressing and torturing conditions. However, the maximum punishments for these crimes seem insignificant, only three months of imprisonment or 300.000 rupiahs fine (Article 302), and eight days of confinement and 50.000 rupiahs fine (Article 540). Moreover, Article 66 (2) c of the Husbandry and Animal Health Law stipulates that animals taken care of or maintained by a person should be free from hunger and thirst, abuse, fear, and stress.
In practice, however, these articles are rarely utilized by the police. Although, there is a recent success story in 2021, where the South Jakarta District Court found the content creator of a monkey-torture Youtube channel called “Abang Satwa” guilty of violating the Husbandry and Animal Health Law. However, he was only punished to fifteen days of imprisonment and 402.000 rupiahs fine, which is strikingly low and does not instill deterrence, especially compared to how much profit he gained from his contents.
Moreover, another factor is the lack of public awareness of the negative impacts of animal cruelty content. Considering how some animal cruelty content is subtle, for instance, videos of orangutans as pets when they actually belong in the wild, viewers may struggle to comprehend its danger. Still, those content may influence viewers to resort to harmful actions, such as buying wild animals for their personal pleasure, selling, or exploiting them. This lack of awareness results in the increased public contribution in harming the earth’s biodiversity since more animals, including endangered wild animals, are harmed and killed. Viewing animal cruelty content is also a harmful activity, especially for children. Several studies suggest that children who witness animal cruelty are more likely to engage in animal cruelty activities. This fact is concerning, especially since most children nowadays are active social media users, increasing the probability of their exposure to animal cruelty content.
What can we do to stop animal cruelty content?
Social media platforms should significantly step up their effort to enforce animal cruelty content creators. Better enforcement may be initiated through several measures suggested by the Asia For Animals Coalition, such as stopping the payment of animal cruelty channels, creating robust monitoring systems to detect and remove content, and monitoring content creators to prevent them from posting similar content in a new channel in the platform. Law enforcers should also be proactive in investigating animal cruelty content instead of merely depending on public reports.
We, social media users, should also be more aware of the signs of animal cruelty in online content. If you see animal cruelty content, remember to avoid watching, engaging, and sharing the content. Instead, reporting the channels to the platform and law enforcers would be better to directly impose sanctions on the content creator. Despite the challenge to identify and stop every animal cruelty content out there, we could always start by being more critical of animal-related content and ponder whether the animal on our screens had to suffer for our five-minute entertainment and the profit of the content creator.
 Asia For Animals Coalition (2021) Making Money from Misery: How Social Media Giants Profit From Animal Abuse, p. 10.
 Ibid., p. 27.
 Murti, A. S. (2021) Pemkot Jaksel Laporkan Seorang Youtuber ke Polisi atas Dugaan Penyiksaan Monyet. [online] Available at: https://www.inews.id/news/megapolitan/pemkot-jaksel-laporkan-seorang-youtuber-ke-polisi-atas-dugaan-penyiksaan-monyet (Accessed: 10 February 2022).
 Lady Freethinker (2020) Youtube: Profiting From Animal Abuse, p. 3.
 Asia For Animals Coalition (2021) Making Money from Misery: How Social Media Giants Profit From Animal Abuse, p. 31.
 YouTube (2022) Violent or graphic content policies. Available at: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2802008?hl=en (Accessed: 8 February 2022).
 Asia For Animals Coalition (2021) Making Money from Misery: How Social Media Giants Profit From Animal Abuse, p. 42.
 The Indonesian Criminal Code.
 Act 18 of 2009 on Husbandry and Animal Health.
 ABC (2021) Ribuan Konten Penyiksaan Binatang di Media Sosial yang ‘Meraih Keuntungan’ Berasal dari Indonesia. [online] Available at: https://www.tempo.co/abc/6950/ribuan-konten-penyiksaan-binatang-di-media-sosial-yang-meraih-keuntungan-berasal-dari-indonesia (Accessed: 10 February 2022).
 Randour, M. Lou et al. (2021) ‘Animal Abuse as a Type of Trauma: Lessons for Human and Animal Service Professionals’, Trauma, violence & abuse, 22(2). doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838019843197, p. 280.
 Asia For Animals Coalition (2021) Making Money from Misery: How Social Media Giants Profit From Animal Abuse, p. 64.