Examination of Witnesses

Part of Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:31 am on 23rd July 2019.

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Michael Flower:

We receive quite a number of complaints that make reference to the social media site Snapchat. The figures I have seen show that in 2015 there were 27 complaints that mentioned Snapchat, and in 2018 there were 214. That would tend to indicate that there is a significant increase.

On an individual case-by-case basis, I am often asked why cruelty continues and seems to be increasing, and why serious cruelty seems to be increasing. I do not really know the answer, but I have a very strong suspicion that social media is a contributory factor. I have children who are on Facebook and so on, and a lot of people on these sites seem to live an almost artificial life, where they want to glorify their activities. One way a proportion of people seem to do it is to commit acts of cruelty and then put them on the internet so that others can see it. It is damaging, because it is almost publicising and promoting cruelty. To my mind, this is yet another aggravating feature. I believe that the Sentencing Council will recognise that fact—it has included that in the current sentencing guidelines. That is all positive, but it is an issue and I am sure that it leads to more cruelty.

From an enforcement point of view, it is sometimes helpful, because if we can secure the material that is being posted, we have pretty good evidence of what is being done by which individuals to which animals. It does not always work, because some of the material on these social media sites is deleted very quickly and cannot always be retrieved. It is quite surprising that we have had a number of pretty high-profile cases, including dog fighting. In one of the last cases I dealt with, they were going into fields in Bedfordshire, I think, and staging fights in the middle of the field and filming them. Then they put it on social media, where one of our researchers saw it and we were able to deal with the offending. It is a mixed blessing. It helps to perpetuate cruelty and it does not always solve it.