How fake animal rescue videos became a new frontier for animal abuse
Who makes the videos?
Most of the videos uploaded to the various channels appear to have been shot in Southeast Asia, possibly Cambodia, according to Jackel and other animal researchers. Khmer, Cambodia’s main language, is often spoken in the videos, the snakes featured are species native to the area, and the vegetation looks good, they say.
Jobs are scarce in the Cambodian countryside, which is home to 90 percent of the country’s poorest people. In addition, tourism, manufacturing and construction, which account for 40% of jobs, have been drastically reduced during the pandemic.
“A lot of people in places like Cambodia and Vietnam have pet reptiles or raise them for meat and other purposes like we do with chickens,” says Natusch, who has reviewed some of the videos for National geography. “These animals appear to be kept in cages most of the time in the local village.”
Bellingcat, an open source investigative website, has reviewed over a dozen videos on one of the most prolific fake animal rescue channels for National geography. The group searched for environmental clues to help identify likely locations where the videos were taken.
Foeke Postma, an investigator and trainer from Bellingcat, says he suspects that “based on certain details in the videos and the mountain ranges” they were made near Tuk Meas Khang Lech, a rural area in southern Ethiopia. Cambodia. But he didn’t know where. “The rural nature of these videos will make it difficult to track them or locate them exactly,” he says.
Where the videos are filmed is important to people trying to stop exploitation, says Jackel. “It’s the only way local law enforcement can do anything.” It’s also important to know who owns the channels that showcase the videos, she says. These are the people who get paid from Google if the channels are monetized, and who can achieve some video notoriety. “Obviously people want attention, and that can be a very powerful draw,” says Jackel. “Even if they don’t take advantage of it, there is still a danger: you can be popular on YouTube if you torture animals. ”
These channel owners are unlikely to be based in Cambodia, which is not listed as an eligible country for YouTube advertising partnership agreements.
Only Google and the owner of the YouTube channel account know in which country a channel is registered for payment and tax purposes, says Urgo of Social Blade. The “about” page, which is visible on every channel, may not reflect where the videos are shot: someone listing a channel in the US, for example, could post videos from anywhere. .
YouTube said in a statement that the channel Bellingcat reviewed had not been monetized.
What can be done to help
The responsibility for reporting problematic videos shouldn’t lie with viewers, says Jackel. “YouTube has an obligation to ensure that its platform does not promote cruelty to animals and that any abusive content is removed. “
Still, viewers should report what they think are cruel fake videos on YouTube, and they shouldn’t be sharing them, she says. To report a video, users should click “report” in the lower right corner of the video, select that it is “violent or repulsive content” and choose the “animal abuse” option.
Putting pressure on advertisers might also help, say Jackel and others. Big brands like PepsiCo, Walmart, and Starbucks pulled their YouTube ads in 2017 after the the Wall Street newspaper found that they were placed next to videos promoting hate speech. The boycotts prompted YouTube to announce plans to beef up the app. The platform updated its hate speech and harassment policies in 2019, banning videos that claim one group is superior to others in order to justify discrimination.
Policing problematic content is probably a “never-ending war” for YouTube, according to Schubert of the Animal Welfare Institute. But it is still the responsibility of social media companies to develop algorithms to enforce their own guidelines and to hire enough people to monitor animal abuse videos and remove them as quickly as possible.
YouTube could use programs to analyze and recognize threatened or endangered species in animal videos and create automatic notifications about the animal’s danger level, with contextual information about animal exploitation, Chaber explains. Viewers should see the notifications before they can watch the videos, she says. The platform has already taken a similar approach with hoax videos.
When users search YouTube for topics known to be subject to disinformation, warning or educational signs are displayed. If a user searches for “coronavirus,” for example, an information sign that says “learn more” links to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID website. The box is also visible at the bottom of the individual listed videos. Something like that could be done with animal videos, Chaber says.
But not everyone agrees that warnings would help. Jackel says she’s hesitant to use this type of intervention for bogus animal rescues because it could add a layer of novelty to sharing or watching them. It also emphasizes saying these videos are deceptive rather than mistreating animals, she says.
“The most pressing problem is animal abuse, which should never be allowed as ‘entertainment’ no matter how it’s labeled,” says Jackel. Emphasis should be placed on removing videos immediately. “Videos promoting cruelty to animals have no place on YouTube, period.”