Making money through clicks and likes has led some online content creators to turn to animal cruelty.
Videos which appear to show cute creatures being rescued from dangerous situations can often be staged, animal welfare groups say.
Individual dogs, cats and birds can be seen being "saved" from a variety of situations including being attacked by a snake, falling into tar, or almost drowning.
The majority of these videos are made in Asia, Africa and Russia, according to Four Paws International’s Sarah Ross who spoke to Yahoo News Australia from Germany on Friday morning (local time).
She identified a video shared to TikTok last week, where a man rescues 20 birds stuck in a fence, as "suspicious", but the trend itself came her attention some years ago.
At first she was curious about how people managed to turn up at just the right time to save animals in need and then be the "hero" of the story.
Then she started to notice videos featuring the same animals were being posted across various channels to avoid causing suspicion.
“If they have a channel that has a lot of subscribers and a lot of likes, they get a lot of money for each video," she said.
"It's a money-making machine."
How you can avoid assisting animal abusers
While it may be tempting to admonish the channel’s host in the comments, Ms Ross said any interaction could actually drive up the video’s value by making the platform’s algorithm believe the post is driving engagement.
She recommends a few simple steps to combat their proliferation:
Flag the content as offensive with the website itself.
Do not comment.
Do not watch.
Do not share.
She has also identified a number of indicators that mean the rescue is likely fake:
Filmed like a movie where the camera cuts between victim animals, the danger and the hero.
Two people involved. One filming and the other on camera.
Shot in an isolated place like a forest.
The rescuer is already talking to the camera when they notice the animal needing to be saved.
The animal isn’t taken to an animal hospital or adopted after the rescue.
Videos continue to proliferate online despite crackdown
While YouTube announced in March that it would be banning staged animal rescue content, it is still possible to find this content on their site as well as other platforms.
As of July 13, not-for-profit World Animal Protection (WAP) said of the 181 rescue videos they had identified as suspicious on YouTube, only 42 had been removed.
These videos contain “shocking cruelty” and result in injuries and severe psychological trauma so people can get “cheap thrills”, WAP’s Ben Pearson told Yahoo News Australia.
“Typical filming takes time, meaning long periods of suffering," he said.
"It’s unknown how many more animals died or were injured behind the scenes, and even those filming are putting themselves at risk.
“Each day that these clips stay online, the more popular this phenomenon becomes.”
Tough new penalties for NSW animal cruelty offenders
NSW Animal Justice Party MP Emma Hurst said she found the trend “disgusting” and after it has received recent attention, authorities are on “high alert”.
“Anyone attempting to produce a video like this could face hefty fines and even jail time,” she said.
“NSW recently introduced eight-fold increases in animal cruelty penalties, and doubled the maximum jail sentence.
“If an animal is accidentally or intentionally harmed while creating one of these videos, in NSW those involved could be charged with aggravated animal cruelty and face a fine of up to $110,000 or 2 years imprisonment, or both.
“Additional offences and penalties could apply, up to $22,000, if a native animal is involved.”
As many of these videos are produced overseas, Ms Hurst argues that online platforms like Facebook and YouTube must increase their monitoring of suspicious content.
YouTube has been contacted for comment.
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