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‘LADY’ DOTH PROTEST: YouTube sued over animal abuse videos, accused of not enforcing ban

YouTube is aiding and abetting violations of the federal 'animal crushing' law, which prohibits making or distributing videos in which animals are 'purposely crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled or otherwise subjected to serious bodily injury'.

DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI: The videos are disturbing. A giant python wraps its thick body around the neck of a puppy, which thrashes and squeals in panic. A baby monkey, trembling and screeching in horror, is poked, prodded and pinched inside a basket. Another monkey is forced to fend off a giant snake slithering toward it while tied to the ground.

As of Monday, all of those videos of animal abuse — and dozens more — were available on YouTube. Some of the videos have been on the site for years, viewed hundreds of thousands of times. Some also carried advertisements for pet food or vacation rental homes. That meant YouTube’s parent company, Google, was sharing advertising revenue with the people who posted the videos.

The videos are now the subject of a lawsuit filed on Monday in California Superior Court in Santa Clara. Lady Freethinker, an animal rights nonprofit, sued YouTube, accusing it of breach of contract. The suit claims that the platform failed to live up to its agreement with users by allowing animal abuse videos to be uploaded and failing to take action when alerted about the content.

Lady Freethinker, which has exposed dogfighting rings in Chile and dog meat auctions in South Korea, said YouTube had ignored the group’s repeated flagging of animal abuse videos. YouTube’s community guidelines, the rules for what is allowed on the site, say animal abuse content is not permitted.

The ban includes videos in which humans inflict physical harm to an animal to cause suffering. The guidelines say YouTube also does not allow videos in which humans prompt animals to fight or stage a rescue that places the animal in a dangerous situation.

“YouTube is aware of these videos and its role in distributing them, as well as its continuing support of their creation, production and circulation,” the animal rights group’s complaint said. “It is unfortunate that YouTube has chosen to put profits over principles of ethical and humane treatment of innocent animals.”

The lawsuit reflects a repeated criticism of YouTube: Despite detailed and extensive policies for what is permissible, it has struggled to enforce them and prevent dangerous and disturbing videos from reaching its audience of more than one billion users. Enforcement remains a challenge even after YouTube has added thousands of human reviewers and made major investments in artificial intelligence to identify problematic videos before they are uploaded…

Through its lawyers, Lady Freethinker also sent a letter to the Justice Department on Monday, accusing YouTube of aiding and abetting the violation of “animal crushing” law. Created in 1999 and amended in 2010 and 2019, the federal law prohibits making or distributing videos in which animals are “purposely crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled or otherwise subjected to serious bodily injury.” The law allows exceptions for videos in which animals may be harmed in slaughter for food, legal hunting, the protection of people or property, medical research and euthanasia.

In the complaint and letter, the animal rights group said YouTube was profiting from animal abuse because some of the videos ran advertisements. For example, a video of a puppy desperately trying to escape the grasp of a python was preceded by a commercial for Vrbo, the vacation rental unit of Expedia Group.

Many of the comments on the video are also troubling. Under one video in which a baby monkey is manhandled while it screams in terror, one commentator called it a “thrill.” Under the same video, another person wrote that the creator should break the monkey’s arms to instill “some severe discipline.”

Ms. Jackel said it had been urging YouTube for 18 months to take meaningful action on the animal abuse videos. She said it provided the company last year with examples of violations on 146 channels with more than 2,000 videos collectively viewed 1.2 billion times. She said that YouTube hadn’t responded and that roughly 70 percent of those videos remained up last month…

In July, Lady Freethinker, along with Action for Primates, a British nonprofit, wrote a letter to Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s chief executive, expressing concern about the company’s “laissez faire” attitude. It included a dozen examples of users and videos that had been flagged to YouTube for animal abuse violations but that had remained on the site.

The videos and user accounts were removed after the letter was sent. “We’ve tried to have a meaningful conversation with them multiple times, and been shut down,” Ms. Jackel said. “We’re knocking on the door, and nobody is answering. So this lawsuit is kind of a last straw”. SOURCE…


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