Animals and Social Media: Where are your clicks going?

Uncategorized May 15, 2024

Animals and Social Media: Where are your clicks going?

Please note that while examples of different types of content are mentioned and alluded to within this post, we do not encourage actively seeking out content involving animals whose wellbeing may be compromised. We encourage all to be mindful of how their engagement with content can lead to that content receiving more attention, thus encouraging creators to continue sharing problematic videos, photos, and other content involving animals online.


Animals in the age of social media

In today’s increasingly digital world, animals have become common sights across social media platforms. Many zoos, aquariums, animal sanctuaries, and other facilities rely on social media as an important venue for marketing themselves and raising awareness about their work; videos and photos drive traffic to both their websites and their sites, leading to donations, human behaviour change, and other positive outcomes for the facility. Consider, for example, a viral video shared by Hertfordshire Zoo featuring one of their snow leopards caught on CCTV, flooded with comments and shares discussing how cute and funny the video is – common descriptors found on content involving animals.

But accredited facilities aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the popularity of animals as subjects of viral content. It is becoming increasingly popular, for example, for individual content creators to have entire accounts dedicated to animals – whether this be sharing content from others that they have found online, or content of their own companion animals or animals that they work with on the day to day. Hundreds of YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and other accounts have attracted millions of followers by chronicling the daily lives of the animals under their care, with some – such as Tardar Sauce or “Grumpy cat” – launching brands, partnering with pet foods and toy companies, and becoming celebrities in their own right.


The wellbeing of viral animals

Not everyone regularly using social media knows how to interpret animal behaviour. Those same descriptors mentioned earlier in this blog – whether a video is cute, funny, interesting – can lead to any content becoming viral online, but content can start to become problematic when those who are determining whether something is cute and worth sharing do not necessarily know if that behaviour is appropriate for that species or if the interactions depicted in the video or photo are conductive to positive wellbeing.

Consider the phenomenon of the slow loris. A video of this species went viral in 2009 depicting a slow loris raising her arms when tickled by a human interacting with her, with many commenting that the content was cute and it seemed that she was enjoying being tickled. This video going viral led to an increase in the trafficking of live slow loris for the pet trade, which are already subject to harmful procedures such as the removal of their teeth to prevent envenomation of human handlers. Further, animal behaviour experts would later go on to describe how the behaviour depicted in the original viral video was actually part of the slow loris’ fear response and indicated that the individual in the video was likely very scared as opposed to enjoying the experience. 

The slow loris is not the only victim of this type of treatment as a result of viral videos. Unfortunately, a lack of awareness and knowledge about animal wellbeing, animal care, and animal behaviour means that it is often only after these videos go viral and those with more knowledge are prompted to speak up that the general public learns that content they initially believed to be acceptable to share actually depicted scared, stressed, or suffering animals.

Ultimately, all content that we share of animals online should promote respectful, professional, safe, and compassionate interactions with all animals, whether those animals are wild or living in human care. That’s why educating people on what is appropriate is so important – as is encouraging social media users to only share content that comes from a source they can trust is dedicated to optimal care and wellbeing of animals.


The dangers of PetTok and PetTube

Problems begin to arise when any person with a camera and internet access can share content and become a celebrity by documenting their lives with animals online. There exist entire channels whose sole income relies on the ad revenue their content generates who use videos of their companion animals to attract views and shares, for example. Problems begin to arise when, in order to stay relevant, these content creators must find new ways for their videos and photos to be interesting and attractive to viewers. And so we begin to see worrying trends of so-called ‘PetTubers’ or ‘PetTok’ accounts that seem to be acquiring new animals frequently, and animals of an increasingly exotic nature with more specialised needs such as otters, servals, large tropical birds, primates, and other wild species.

Of course, non-accredited animal care facilities are not, by default, worse for animal wellbeing than accredited facilities. The difficulty lies in the fact that the average layperson who is not being regularly audited or inspected by an independent authority may not necessarily have the knowledge, skills, or capacity to care for exotic wild animals to a level that optimises wellbeing. An accredited zoo, by contrast, is subject to relevant legislation and regulations surrounding any public facility housing animals, as well as the high standards of accreditation organisations such as the AZA, BIAZA, EAZA, AAZK, and others. Animal care facilities, too, have many trained and professional staff invested in the care of animals every day, while an individual owner of pets is likely the sole caregiver responsible for all of the animals they share their lives with.

When seeing content shared by someone who appears to have many individuals across many different species, it is important to ask what their care is like when they are off-screen – as you would when seeing a photo or video of an animal in any context. If all of these animals are cared for by one or a few people, do those people have time to adequately provide for all of the wellbeing needs of every animal, every single day? Does the user sharing this content provide context for all of the animals care, 24/7, including their normal habitat when they are not being handled for the purposes of sharing content? Is the species showcased in the content a species that can be appropriately cared for as a pet?

We may be able to say ‘yes’ to all of these questions, but we should still take caution about supporting content from pet owners. It is also important to consider what types of behaviours are being encouraged by the videos, including animal handling and care practices – such as frequently handling animals to show them in front of the camera – and what species are being encouraged are appropriate as pets. With increasing evidence that the pet trade is driving illegal wildlife trade at a greater rate, it is important now more than ever to be cautious about the species deemed appropriate as companions and whether we are inadvertently suggesting a species can be housed and cared for by the average layperson. Even videos and photos of trained and professional caregivers at accredited zoos interacting directly with animals can send the wrong message if we aren’t careful! 


What can I do?

Whenever we click on a video, give it our views, make a comment – even if that comment is negative – or share it to others, we are telling the algorithm of whichever platform it is on that people want to see this content. Whether it is because that content is good, bad, controversial, neutral, or any other descriptor, the more people who are engaging with the content, the more likely it is that the same content will be recommended to the feeds of others. 

The best course of action when you see content that you are unsure about is to report the video to the respective platform and relevant animal welfare authority for the jurisdiction where the content was created where applicable and known.

For more information, we have created a free online resource which aims to help anyone to recognise and understand what type of content to look out for – both good and bad. Our animals in social media resource includes checklists for deciding what to post yourself, decision trees for evaluating content found online, and other information that may be helpful.

Access our animals in social media resource at the following link HERE


50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.