The Internet delivers an astounding array of images and ideas into homes across the world—but not all of these images are particularly animal-friendly. In the United States, individuals have the constitutional right to free speech, which includes the right to discuss and advocate for animal abuse in public forums like the Internet.
Unfortunately, some of what is being shown online crosses into the realm of illegal activity. Rest assured, animal cruelty is a crime in every state—if people go beyond discussion and actually practice what they preach, they can be prosecuted for animal cruelty under their local laws.
While some online images of animal cruelty are, sadly, all too real, many websites that appear, at first glance, to promote animal cruelty are hoaxes. Of course, websites that are disturbing or disgusting are not breaking the law if no animals are actually being harmed. While you can certainly express your opposition to these sites to the companies that host them, be aware that their content is protected by the First Amendment.
For example, the infamous joke website, Bonsaikitten.com, offered “rectilinear kittens” (kittens stuffed into glass jars) for “sale,” but provided no payment options or prices and, in reality, did not sell anything. In addition, the images were computer generated, so no live kittens were abused to create the photos on the website. Bonsaikitten.com was entirely immune to prosecution because it did not break any laws.
Bonsaikitten.com was a pioneer in the world of faux-abuse websites, and apparently the joke has not gotten old. Newer websites continue to use tasteless humor and shock value to generate attention—although most of them do not harm animals or offer anything for sale. One such website is puppyprofits.com, which satirizes dog fighting as an easy path to “big money, big excitement, and an amazing new life […]!” Another is puppybeef.com, a “Premium Dog Meat Supermarket” with clip-art photos of meat and no actual checkout system. Remember, hoaxes and parodies on the Internet, no matter how offensive, are exempt from cruelty laws.
Internet hunting—also called remote-controlled or computer-assisted hunting—allows a remote computer user to kill real animals. At a game ranch that the armchair “hunters” view live on their computer monitors, a real, loaded gun is mounted on a robotic tripod. Food is used to lure animals—many of whom have lost their fear of humans—within close range, at which time the Internet hunters can line up a shot with their computer mouse and “fire” at will.
The ASPCA supports the passage of legislation to ban Internet hunting, and several states have done so in recent years:
- 2009—CT, WY
- 2008—CO, OK, UT
- 2007—AK, DE, ID, IL, MA, NE
- 2006—AL, KY, LA, MS, NH, NM, SC
Introduced to the U.S. House and Senate in 2007 (but failing to pass), the federal Computer-Assisted Remote Hunting Act would have prohibited certain computer-assisted remote hunting nationwide.
Please visit the ASPCA Advocacy Center to learn more about Internet hunting.
What You Can Do About Online Cruelty
There are several parties involved in managing a website. There is the person who owns/registered the domain name—usually the site’s creator—and there is also the Internet service provider (ISP), the company that “hosts” the website on its servers.
Anyone may access this background information for a particular website by visiting http://www.networksolutions.com/ and doing a “whois” search of the site in question.
Now that you have the ISP’s information, contact it about the offensive site. If the site’s content violates the ISP’s terms of service, the company might chose to remove it—however, if the site displays criminal acts and warrants an investigation by law enforcement, you might want to hold off on attempting to have the site removed, pending an investigation.
If you have concrete information that a website is displaying/promoting criminal acts, the most effective response is still traditional, local law enforcement. (“Local” in this case means based in the area from which the website originates—the “whois” search will provide you with the registrant’s address.) Do not contact the owner of the site directly—instead, you may wish to contact any or all of the following organizations and advise them of the facts of the situation:
1. Local law enforcement officials and, if you think an animal is in immediate danger, the possible offender’s local FBI branch
2. The local society for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA) and/or humane society, which may have the power to enforce animal cruelty laws in the area
3. The local city/county Health Department/Board of Health, because abuse of animals often involves unsafe or unsanitary conditions for humans
4. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance. File an online report with IC3 only if what you have seen has a money angle (someone selling, trading, or offering an illegal good or service). Select "Money" when asked what the incident you are reporting involved.
*You may file a report from abroad, but the IC3 will only review reports of suspected abuse taking place in the United States.
5. Local and national media organizations, as the power of the media to bring public attention to an animal abuse situation can help initiate corrective actions.
Finally, you may want to write to the ISPs with which you regularly do business to encourage them to screen their own sites and not do business with websites that promote animal cruelty.