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Reports of animal abuse on social media has more than doubled in the last year

The RSPCA survey reveals over 11 million people have seen animal cruelty online

The RSPCA has released its groundbreaking inaugural report in partnership with the Scottish SPCA – the Animal Kindness Index* – which looks at the nation’s attitude towards animals.

The charity’s figures, released today, show there were 756 reports of animal abuse on social media last year (2021) across England and Wales compared to 431 in 2020 and just 157 in 2019. The RSPCA logged an average of 63 reports of cruelty on social media a month last year, compared to just 35 a month during the previous year.

Elaine Spence, Chief Inspector for South Wales, said: “It is very worrying that we are seeing more reports of animal abuse being posted on social media for likes and kudos.

“These videos are often accompanied by laughing emojis or silly comments, it is normalising – and even making light of – animal cruelty.

“It’s worrying that people who wouldn’t ordinarily see animal cruelty are being exposed to it online. Not only could it encourage other people to do the same but it creates a society that has become desensitised to some of the most horrific acts of cruelty to animals which is a backward step for us as a nation of animal lovers.”

The RSPCA has released its groundbreaking inaugural report in partnership with the Scottish SPCA – the Animal Kindness Index – which looks at the nation’s attitude towards animals.

The report revealed that a fifth of people (22%) had witnessed animal cruelty online in the last 12 months which equates to a whopping 11.5 million** people in the UK.

On social media almost half have seen abuse on Facebook (46%) followed by YouTube and Twitter (20%), 11% on TikTok, 10% on Instagram, 5% on Reddit, 4% on WhatsApp and 2% on Snapchat.

Of the reports made to the RSPCA, 62% were posted on Facebook and 20% posted to Instagram with just 3.2% posted on Snapchat.

The RSPCA and Scottish SPCA have also been calling on the Government to include animal welfare as part of the Online Safety Bill which aims to increase safety and tackle illegal content online. The Government is yet to include animal cruelty content under the scope of the Bill despite figures showing the high numbers of people witnessing this cruelty online.

The charity’s Special Operations unit works to trace these social media videos and find who is responsible to bring them to justice.

These include:

  • Last month, a high profile case of a footballer who kicked and slapped his cat which was captured on video and uploaded to Snapchat, concluded and two men were sentenced. The RSPCA launched an investigation after a video, posted on Snapchat in February, showed a man chasing a cat around a house, kicking and slapping him. Two cats were subsequently seized by police and taken to be examined by a vet before being taken into the care of the RSPCA for rehoming.

  • The RSPCA investigated after a video circulated on Twitter of a man who was seen kicking a cat which he had on a lead. The incident was captured on a head camera by a cyclist on his way back from work on a quiet cycle path off the Southern Distributor Road in Newport, approaching City Bridge, in January. In the images the cat – described by the witness as a large Bengal-type breed with striped markings – is lying on the ground and is seen being kicked by the man, who is wearing a dark coloured hooded top and jeans.

  • The charity looked into a video which saw a milkman kicking a hedgehog in Long Melford in Suffolk. The incident had been captured on someone’s doorbell camera and then posted to Facebook and shared.

  • The RSPCA investigated after a teenager allegedly threw a gosling at its parents whilst being filmed on a mobile phone to upload to social media. A member of the public contacted the RSPCA after they spotted a teenager throwing a gosling at its parents at Clapham Common, London, on the pond near to the Windmill Pub. The witness described a male teenager who was seen throwing the chick against the parents and then pretending to ‘box’ with the two Canada geese who had become very distressed and were trying to protect their young. A female teenager was also seen filming the incident on their phone. The chick, which was just a few days old, was left suffering an injury to their leg after the attack and was subsequently struggling to swim. The little gosling was thankfully rescued by the RSPCA and rehabilitated at a nearby wildlife hospital.

Tess Macpherson-Woods, Social Media Manager at the RSPCA, said: “Managing the RSPCA’s social media accounts is both extremely rewarding and heartbreaking. We’re sent an awful lot of upsetting and graphic content, but only our national cruelty line can task jobs to inspectors, so all we can do is provide advice and encourage people to call them.

“We’ve managed to track down animal abusers by sharing appeals for information on social media which is just the best feeling. Whilst a poor animal has suffered, knowing you’re part of a team that will do its best to rescue, rehabilitate and seek justice for them makes the upsetting part of the job worthwhile.”

The RSPCA receives around 90,000 calls to its cruelty line every month and investigates 6,000 reports of deliberate animal cruelty, including animal fighting and hunting. But in the summer*** calls rise to 134,000 a month – three every minute and reports of cruelty soar to 7,600 each month – a heartbreaking 245 every day.

This is why the charity has launched its Cancel Out Cruelty campaign, to raise funds to help its rescue teams out on the frontline continue to save animals in need of help and to raise awareness about how to stop cruelty to animals for good.