Article Thumbnail

YouTube Has an Animal Abuse Problem, Putting Cats and Dogs at Risk

Despite public outrage, videos of cat decapitation, puppy abuse and mouse torture continue to amass views on YouTube. Can the company come up with a solution?

Editor’s Note: We have chosen not to link out to any of the animal-cruelty videos mentioned below in an attempt to cover the issues they present without further inflating their view count.

The YouTube community readied their torches and pitchforks in December 2018, when Chilean YouTuber Peluchin Entertainment was exposed as the subject of a disturbing leaked video in which he appeared to brutally pummel a cat. Virtual mobs of notable YouTubers uploaded acknowledgment videos imploring YouTube to remove Peluchin from their prized platform, some even talking about taking matters into their own hands by collecting money to hire a hitman.

According to Spanish daily newspaper La Vanguardia, Chilean authorities opened an investigation into the young man behind Peluchin Entertainment shortly thereafter, noting that the cat in question had sadly perished. Mauricio Negrete, the head of the Punta Arenas PDI Criminal Investigation Brigade, specifically told the paper that they were able to identify the minor, his parents and how the events occurred, but no follow-up information relating to the investigation is available at this time.

In a subsequent video, Peluchin revealed that he had adopted a brand new pair of kittens. Reports from around that time implied that another video showed Peluchin cramming a kitten into a feces-filled toilet, and information gathered by YouTuber The Quartering suggested that the kittens were later taken away from Peluchin.

YouTube eventually removed the videos in question from their platform, and the Peluchin chatter eased up — until recently. In late August, prominent YouTuber Penguinz0 uploaded a video addressing rampant animal abuse on YouTube. He complained about a general lack of moderation, specifically noting that Peluchin Entertainment is somehow still able to thrive on the platform and upload videos to his channel. “This deranged loser has become some hero to animal abusers,” he noted. 

Indeed, in researching this phenomenon, I personally stumbled upon numerous appalling videos of animal abuse on YouTube, where the description read, “Peluchin Entertainment es un Dios.” Translation: Peluchin Entertainment is a God.

Penguinz0 is absolutely correct in suggesting that Peluchin is only the tip of the abominable iceberg that is animal abuse on YouTube. In August 2019, the YouTube community took up arms again, desperately calling for the removal of a channel named Akatsukito暁, which featured at least one video of what appeared to be a decapitated cat. The channel remains active on the platform, along with numerous copycat channels. Some have speculated that these channels are somehow connected to the young man behind Peluchin Entertainment, but nothing has been confirmed.

Beyond clips featuring cat murderers, a wide variety of videos involving animal abuse have been documented on YouTube. For instance, “puppy saved by python” videos are quite common on the platform, which show the all-too-convenient, last-minute “rescue” of helpless young dogs that have been attacked by snakes — however, the producers of these videos appear to be the ones setting up young dogs as bait for snakes so they can come along and “save” them for views (YouTube has purportedly been removing these kinds of videos, but many can still be found on the platform). Videos of chained monkeys fighting shackled dogs are equally common on YouTube and garner millions of views. There are also entire channels devoted to massacring mice in the most disgustingly inhumane ways possible.

The YouTube and Twitch communities alike have been outspoken about their disdain for this kind of content — even in its less gruesome forms — for years now. In August 2019, YouTuber Brooke Houts was bombarded by backlash after accidentally uploading footage of herself hitting and spitting on her pet Doberman. The Los Angeles Police Department even opened an investigation into the matter after receiving “numerous complaints.” Its Animal Cruelty Task force eventually determined that “there was no crime” committed against her dog.

Similarly, in July 2019, popular streamer Alinity Divine became the subject of accusations that she mistreated her pets after she was filmed throwing her cat over her shoulder while gaming live on Twitch. A petition to ban Divine from Twitch has garnered more than 59,000 signatures and counting.

All of this has led to continuous calls for YouTube, as well as other social media platforms, to do more in preventing the spread of content portraying animal abuse. The Houts and Divine incidents even spurred an appeal from PETA, which called for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Twitch and TikTok to “enact a zero-tolerance policy against users posting videos or photos in which they’re shown harming animals and to immediately — and permanently — ban anyone who does so.”

Regarding these kinds of videos, Kristin Rickman, Emergency Response Division Manager at PETA, tells me, “They normalize treating animals disrespectfully, or even abusing them, and that’s very dangerous for impressionable viewers, especially young viewers. These also increase the risk of copycat behaviors from other people who are desperate for attention, even if it’s negative attention.” Indeed, Peluchin Entertainment appears to have motivated many copycats. (As a quick aside, Rickman distinguishes exposés of slaughterhouses on YouTube from gratuitous animal cruelty, because they serve as educational and are “essential to informing the public as to the fate of those animals that are exploited by those industries,” rather than simply killing an animal for views.)

But as for why these platforms struggle to remove videos involving animal abuse, Rickman has no idea. “We’ve reached out on several occasions to various platforms,” she explains. “Last year, we sent an open letter to all of the social media platforms asking them to act more quickly to take these videos down and to permanently delete the accounts that post them.”

Admittedly, moderating a platform such as YouTube can be a tricky job — 300 hours of video are uploaded to the platform every minute — especially when you have users constantly re-uploading videos and creating new accounts to avert bans. Just last year, YouTube A.I. mistook robot fighting for animal cruelty, accidentally taking down several innocent users, including some BattleBots contestants. “With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call,” a YouTube spokesperson told Engadget. “When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it. We also offer uploaders the ability to appeal removals and we will re-review the content.”

But whether or not YouTube can curtail the animal abusers lingering on its platform, as the past goes to show, the masses of internet vigilantes will always do their damndest to ruin the careers of anyone who mistreats animals. “The folks who share these kinds of videos need to know that they can run, but they can’t hide,” Rickman says. “Whenever these videos are posted, PETA as well as web users worldwide go into investigative mode and don’t rest until abusers are brought to justice.” One such example of this was documented in the 2019 release Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer, which chronicled the massive online manhunt for a man who shared a graphic video of himself killing two kittens. The man eventually received a life sentence for first-degree murder after moving on from killing cats to murdering a university student.

There are many other examples of animal abusers being charged for sharing their crimes online — even just recently. In May, two young men were charged with numerous felonies after posting a deer-torture video to social media. Also in May, a Kelowna man was charged with six counts of cruelty to animals after allegedly abusing a hamster and posting images of it to social media. And in August, a Southern Illinois man was sentenced to 180 days in jail after a video circulating around Facebook showed him repeatedly kicking an injured fawn in the head.

These charges and sentences could be in part due to the President Trump animal cruelty law, signed in November 2019. In addition to making animal abuse a federal crime, banning the intentional crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impalement or other serious harm to “living non-human mammals, birds, reptiles or amphibians,” it also specifically banned “animal crush videos,” i.e., images or videos that depict animal cruelty.

While many animal abusers continue to skirt the law, hiding behind the relative anonymity (and sometimes even refuge) that sites like YouTube provide — Peluchin Entertainment uploaded a video as recently as last week, and continues to publish regularly — as Rickman said, the internet will do its best to police itself, especially when animals are involved.

As a result, people like Houts and Divine will have their online presences forever tainted by their past mistreatment of animals. As for Peluchin, he’ll have to live with the fact that his page on the Atrocious YouTubers Wiki lists a whopping 23 reasons “Why He Should Be Put In A Mental Asylum.”