Most people know that if they witness animal abuse or neglect in person, they can report it to local law enforcement or animal services.  But what if you see videos or images of animal cruelty on the internet?

Unfortunately, there are many instances of animal abuse online.  According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, reporting this digital content can be complicated.

The ALDF notes that while animal abuse is against the law, in most cases it is not illegal to post animal abuse content (obscenity-related content is an exception).  So, what can you do if you see images of animal cruelty?

The ALDF recommends downloading the actual images to your computer because screenshots alone are a weaker form evidence.  Collect any identifying details of the poster, such as screen name and written comments.

You can then make a report to the poster’s local law enforcement agency (if known) or your own.  Send them what you have collected and ask that they file a request with the site to preserve the information and investigate the crimes shown in the images.  Be aware that you may be called as a witness.

Law enforcement agencies will work with the host site to further investigate the content and the poster.  In some cases, law enforcement can get a search warrant to access the poster’s electronic devices.

Getting access to the original content is important because those images contain metadata (date, time, location) that is key to the case.

It may be tempting to ask the site to remove offensive content or engage with the poster online.  The ALDF advises that you not do these things because it could make the person remove the images before an investigation has begun.

The ALDF notes that while sometimes these reporting efforts produce positive results, sometimes they don’t.  It’s still a good idea to make an effort to identify the perpetrators of online animal cruelty, so that they can be held to some level of accountability.


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