UK Online Safety Bill Brings New Hope in Ending Online Animal Torture

Written by Lex Talamo.

There’s now new hope for defenseless animals being tortured relentlessly on camera for online clicks in the form of the United Kingdom’s Online Safety Bill, which just passed through Parliament and is now awaiting a signature by King Charles.

Amendments to the bill, championed by Baroness Merro and numerous animal welfare advocates, elevate animal cruelty content to a “priority” offense — on the same level as revenge porn, child sexual abuse, and death threats.

Online platforms will be required to proactively seek out and remove content depicting violence against animals under the bill’s provisions or face fines of up to £18 million (USD $22 million) or 10 percent of their global income.

The bill’s provisions, as written, also will apply to content created outside of the UK that is viewable to UK citizens and as such is likely to have far-reaching ramifications.

“It also means even if the activity takes place outside of the UK, tech companies will be made to take it (violent animal cruelty videos) down as part of a zero tolerance approach,” the UK government posted on its website.

The bill follows on the heels of a years-long investigation by U.S.-based animal protection nonprofit Lady Freethinker (LFT) and UK-based nonprofit Action for Primates (AfP) that exposed a new trend in people and channels profiting by creating and posting violence against animals online.

The investigation uncovered a sadistic monkey torture ring that formed on YouTube and spread to the platform Telegram, through which users in the United Kingdom and United States were paying operators in Indonesia to torture and even kill vulnerable baby macaques.

The horrific acts brainstormed by users — and executed overseas — included piercing baby monkeys’ eyelids with hat pins, cutting off their body parts, setting them on fire, and killing them with tools of torture chosen by the users.

The nonprofits reported the torture to law enforcement and also provided information to the BBC, which launched its own investigation and infiltrated the monkey torture ring on Telegram, leading to the chilling documentary “The Monkey Haters.”

The UK’s government cited that documentary as an example of the way that social media can be used to facilitate animal cruelty and why violence against animals deserves serious attention.

Following investigations by law enforcement, multiple people have been arrested or jailed — including two men jailed in Indonesia, two men charged and more than 20 others under investigation in the United States, and three women being questioned in the UK.

Several of the monkeys used in the torture videos also have been rescued and relocated to the Jakarta Animal Aid Network sanctuary in Indonesia, where they are being rehabilitated before hopefully being returned to the wild.

The UK is not alone in recognizing the seriousness and evolving nature of animal cruelty. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child also recently added violence against animals, for the first time ever, to its list of “unacceptable” violences that a child should never have to witness. The precedent-setting decision to raise animal rights into the human rights domain hinged on established and growing research that shows witnessing animal cruelty can harm a child’s sociological development.

Although social media companies, including YouTube and Facebook, have publicly declared that they are committed to combating animal abuse, investigators with the BBC, LFT, and AfP have found that channels and individual posters who film and promote animal cruelty content remain online.

The animal protection nonprofits sent a memo about animal cruelty to Parliament advocating for animal cruelty to be included in the Online Safety Bill.

They also have continued to advocate for the quick and proactive removal of animal cruelty content by publishing reports, petitions, and working with law enforcement and media. LFT also encouraged its supporters to write to the UK Secretary of State in support of including animal cruelty in the Online Safety Bill.

LFT President and Founder Nina Jackel said she hopes the Online Safety Bill will inspire similar legislation in the United States and around the world.

“Holding social media platforms accountable for the content posted and promoted on their platforms will help protect both people and animals,” Jackel said. “We’re eager to see how this bill will impact social media companies operating in the United States and also hope that it will serve as a model for needed changes here, where animal torture videos remain prevalent.”

Viewers should never seek out animal cruelty content, according to the animal protection experts. But those who come across animal cruelty content online should always report it to the platform.

Otherwise, it’s important not to share or comment on the posts, as clicks can equate to more visibility and revenue for the cruelty creators.

People can learn more about social media animal cruelty — and how they can help combat it — by visiting the Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition’s website or reporting cruelty they see here.

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