The growing trend of sharing images of animal cruelty on social media

Kenneth Woodburn

Upon first glance, the photo that Kenneth Woodburn posted to Facebook of himself posing with his neighbor's dog seems perfectly normal. It's only upon learning the context -- that Woodburn had shot and killed the dog moments earlier -- that the photo becomes truly chilling.

Unfortunately, this is neither the first nor the last example of people showing off their acts of animal cruelty on social media. Over the past several years, there have been complaints about images posted on Facebook, Twitter, and Vine that featured animals being abused, tortured, or killed.

Woodburn posted a Facebook status shortly before the incident, saying that if the dog, who was not on a leash, came into his yard again, "Hey going to dye today” (sic).The dog, Tank, was a pitbull/lab mix owned by Woodburn's neighbor Richele Ince, who bought the dog as a gift for her daughter's fourth birthday. Pitbulls are the most common victims of animal cruelty, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Other cases of animal abuse documented on social media include kittens being slaughtered with a bow and arrow before being graphically displayed, a dog being hung from a ceiling like a pinata, a cat being kicked off of a porch, and a tiny Chihuahua puppy being placed in a Ziploc bag.

What's Being Done

In many of these animal abuse cases, the offenses were brought to the attention of law enforcement officials by concerned and horrified social media users, who passed the photos or videos, and sometimes the abuser's name and contact information, to local humane societies or police departments. In other cases, PETA has gotten wind of an offensive image and contacted authorities.

There are many petitions going around to remove animal cruelty pages from Facebook and report users who are sharing images of animal abuse. There is no "animal abuse or cruelty" option listed among the criteria to choose from when reporting or deleting a page.

Facebook's current policy on offensive content says that their reporting infrastructure "includes links on pages across the Facebook site, systems to prioritize the most serious reports, and a team of professional reviewers who respond to reports and escalate them to law enforcement as needed."

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has recently begun airing television commercials in support of their petition to Congress for an Animal Bill of Rights. There are six rights being proposed in this bill, including freedom from exploitation, cruelty, neglect, and abuse; the right to a healthy diet, protective shelter and adequate medical care; the right to a protected environment, both in the wild and in captivity; and the right to be represented in court.

The ALDF's main complaint is that animals in the U.S. are considered merely property by law -- no different than a table or a chair. Though there are some laws here and there to protect them, they are often inconsistent and full of loopholes. Their petition has over 330,000 supporters.

With 91% of American adults regularly using social media websites, it's no surprise that the occasional user decides to share images of animal cruelty that they find funny. Many users share these graphic images as a way of getting attention, and having their 15 minutes of fame.

Unfortunately, after Kenneth Woodburn's 15 minutes of fame, and his not-guilty verdict, a single mother and her young daughter -- as well as the students at the neighboring preschool, for whom Tank had become an unofficial mascot -- were left devastated.


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