I see a lot of animal and child abuse online. I also see a lot of very well-meaning people doing very stupid things.
At best, people don’t know what to do, so do anything at all to make themselves feel better. If you have ever been in a situation where you can’t help someone in a situation beyond your control, and you suddenly lose your temper at someone, you’ll understand why people do stupid things – it is an emotional release that brings the added value of thinking you have been helpful.
However, the consequences of those ill-thought out actions can in some cases be severe for the very beings you are trying to help.
Having had an investigation endangered today by a complete idiot who should really know better, I thought I’d write out this easy guide so that people understand the issues and (hopefully) act appropriately.
One of the most common things I see are requests for prosecutions for people who have hurt an animal. All well and great but in many of these cases, (a) the person has not been identified (good luck with petitioning for a prosecution for an unnamed piece of human excrement) or (b) they are in countries where little or no animal welfare laws exist (please ask yourself whether you really believe the Chinese government are going to take notice of 650 westerners all carrying on about an animal abuser in China, when so little of their economy relies on what other people think of them).
I also often see people go “oh report it to facebook!”. Yes, well having original posts taken down because you have reported to facebook will serve only to hinder any investigation taking place. It won’t stop the abuse; in some cases, it may well allow the abuse to continue because it makes it harder to catch the perpetrator.
Do not report child or animal abuse images to Interpol – Interpol do not investigate every lead that is sent to them and unless you can establish jurisdiction (which means you don’t need Interpol), they are unlikely to be of much assistance.
Sharing the profiles of, or private messaging people you suspect to be guilty of animal abuse achieves nothing. If they have posted it online, they don’t give a fuck and in many cases, are looking for the attention you are going to give them. Worst case, they will take their profile down and start another one and you will have been responsible for the loss of evidence.
There are instances where sharing on social media works and I will get onto those circumstances at the end of this post.
So what do you do when confronted by the evil that is some of mankind? How do you help to stop the violence depicted against animals, children, adults?
Here is my guide on how to be a responsible internet user:
(i) Child abuse images
Do not whatever you do share the page. Sharing images of child sexual abuse is, in most countries, punishable by law. Please also do not save screengrabs to your computer, for the same reason.
If you can, try and work out whether the poster is the same person who is the abuser; or knows them.
If the answer is “yes” to either of those, then have a look and see if you can identify where they live. If you can, google the relevant police department for their country and town and report it to them. You can also report to the child welfare department closest to where the poster lives – google is absolutely your friend in these instances.
If you cannot find out any of the location information, please report it to your local child services department who may be able to report it to the police. In the UK, there is also a group called CEOP, which is part of the Metropolitan Police. They investigate child abuse and exploitation including online child sex abuse and they can be contacted here: http://ceop.police.uk/safety-centre/.
(ii) Animal abuse images
Do not whatever you do share the page. Sharing images of crush videos (ie: animals tortured to death by crushing them, usually with heels but sometimes other things, in a sexualised environment) is illegal in the UK, most of Europe and some US states and may well get you prosecuted.
There are a number of online groups who investigate animal cruelty. I have personal knowledge of two; both are excellent:
The Animal Beta Project: http://www.abproject.org/
Stop Crush: http://www.stopcrush.org/
Bear in mind in all circumstances that cases may take a while to investigate, are “live” until they get to court (and sometimes beyond if cases are complex), so please be patient. Don’t assume that because you haven’t had an update for a few months that nothing is being done.
Finally, there are some instances where social media shares save lives. You should be able to tell the difference:
(i) when an animal is in immediate distress and the local authorities are unable or appear unwilling to do anything about it. Public pressure on large organisations such as the SPCA/RSPCA does work. This situation normally arises when someone discovers a neighbour or someone they know beating an animal. I do not advise you go around their house with a big stick but posting video evidence on facebook (only and if only) you are getting absolutely nowhere is a good way to ensure the relevant authorities attend. Just bear in mind that in doing so, you will also attract a mob and mobs are only as clever as their loudest, least bright member. Your key objective should be (a) to save the animal and (b) to ensure that any evidence is untainted; not start a riot.
(ii) when the government of countries that do have animal welfare laws can be swayed by public opinion. In my experience, this is very rare. In the UK, if a petition to parliament (see rules for these here: http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/have-your-say/petitioning/public-petitions/) hits 100,000 signatories, it has to be mentioned in parliament. That is 100,000, which is an awful lot of signatures.
(iii) when putting pressure on local businesses to (for instance), stop selling fur. A petition signed by a few thousand residents, asking shopkeepers not to sell fur may well have an effect, if you can attract local publicity along the way.
There are some people who spend an awful lot of time putting cases together, establishing relationships between abusers; ensuring that evidence is worthy enough to be considered for court. They do this generally in their free time, amongst everything else life throws at them and with the limited resources they have. They then present cases to the authorities so that animals can be saved and offenders prosecuted. To have an investigation compromised and animals or children endangered by the actions of well-meaning (and sometimes just stupid) people is frustration of the worst kind.
Your actions on the internet can make a difference between a child or animal abuser being caught, or getting away with it. Please, choose wisely.