Ten tips to help identify whether social networking groups, pages or individuals posting are legitimate and really animal welfare focused.

In a previous blog https://bronwizview.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/animal-welfare-hoaxing-the-role-of-social-media-and-the-impacts-on-those-involved/ I described a recent animal welfare scam. Hoaxes such as this one are worryingly common.

The following ten tips mean that some time and a little detective work is required but in the long run it may prevent even more of your time being wasted, as well as energy, emotions and even money, on what are false claims, scams and hoaxes.

I would suggest that we all have a responsibility that, before sharing posts and information on social media sites, we check what we are distributing is accurate, true and authentic.  If we do not take control of what we share we, at the very least, cause annoyance and concern to our friends and acquaintances.  At the worst the welfare agencies, who are already overwhelmed with cases and reports, can spend significant time and energy responding to high levels of calls and reports which takes staff away from real welfare work. World Horse Welfare (WHW) recently posted a request to social media users to only call them if they have first hand information as WHW were experiencing very high levels of calls and reports that were clogging up their phone lines https://www.facebook.com/WorldHorseWelfare

As detailed in my earlier bog another very concerning outcome of animal welfare hoxes is that other social media users can be put at risk by responding with offers of help which can involve them visiting areas or sites. Consider this before reposting any welfare items.

  1. Read as many posts and comments on the page or group as you can to help you get a ‘feel’ of what‘s happening and how others are responding.
  2. Do a bit of research – look at who the administrators of a group are, or an individual commentator is.  Have a look at their personal profiles and any other connected pages / groups that they may be involved in.  Have a look at who administrators have invited to join the group.
  3. Check out other similar groups and what they are saying.
  4. Google the individuals involved, check their activity on other social networking sites and visit any websites that they have.
  5. If you have significant concerns check with recognised animal welfare agencies in the area.  You could also contact the police and trading standards to see if they are aware of issues in the locality.
  6. Search for any local newspapers for reports of animal welfare issues.  They are unlikely to print anything that they have been unable to verify.
  7. Check out any photographs being used, are they actually from other, historical welfare cases?
  8. Consider messaging others who are voicing concerns on the social media site to see if others are identifying the same issues as you.
  9. Check if what is being presented is actually a reposting of an old animal welfare story from some time ago.
  10. Listen to your instincts, if you feel there is something not quite right, take notice of it.  Think about someone who you really trust, who is level headed and thoughtful – what would they say about the information that is being presented when weighed up with the information you have gathered from your internet searches?

    So reader, beware. Social media can be used to do a great deal of good, but in a small, but significant, number of cases real harm can be done, to those taken in by a hoax, to those who may be wrongly identified as being at fault in some way and with a major impact on already overstretched welfare agencies. We can all play our part in spreading a false report of a welfare issue and therefore we all need to take responsibility for acting with caution and care.


Who’s a Hoaxer? Some indicators to help identify social media animal welfare and rescue scams

Considering the available information and following very recent horse ‘rescue’ events played out on social media, as documented in a previous blog, the following are suggested as red flag indicators that might help individuals to identify possible social media hoaxes and  ‘animal rescue’ scams. Taking a little time to observe and consider what is being posted, and the subsequent discussions, may just help each of us to spot something that is not quite what it seems.

Indicators to animal rescue scams and hoaxes

Pages, Sites and Administrators

  • Sites and pages that are relatively new and not connected to recognised animal welfare agencies.
  • Groups whose administrators, and sometimes their most vocal followers, have been involved in other social media groups that have closed down.
  • Where details are not given about how they are operating and how records are being kept.
  • Groups whose aims are not explicit or clear or that deviate from their stated focus and activities.
  • Requests for funds to provide for animals in emergency situations, often for the most basic equipment that a reputable welfare group would have, such as head collars and buckets.
  • Where the tone, grammar and style of their writing alters between posts or replies.
  • Photographs that have appeared elsewhere and have been copied on to the page / site without referencing where they originated from.

Behaviours of Administrators / Organisers

  • Administrators / groups who claim that no one does anything about animal welfare and that they are taking it upon themselves to do this.
  • Say that they are the only ones that can undertake the required action.
  • Who state they have the required animal care expertise and legal knowledge.
  • Say that they are not in need of assistance, advice or support and when help is offered by others dismiss it.
  • Initially are  very plausible and even charming, but who change very rapidly when challenged and may quickly become hostile.
  • Claim that the police / other agencies have been involved in the case but the ‘rescuers’ are unwilling to give details of who these other agencies were, what was done and when.
  • View any comments that are not totally supportive as criticism.
  • Discussion of welfare ‘cases’ on social media that are inappropriate and not in keeping with professional agency.
  • Administrators / organisers asking individuals to have discussions with them via private message rather than replying to comments in a public, transparent and open way.
  • The deletion of posts and threads by administrators, especially where they have posted information that they later retract or where they have been challenged by others.
  • Where organisers give accounts of series of disasters in the ‘rescue’. 
  • Where administrators / rescuers joke about activities that are not lawful – such as physical harm to others or ‘taking’ animals regardless of what the law allows.
  • Where threats or verbal abuse is given to those that do not support them unconditionally.
  • Inconsistencies, inaccuracies and where things do not generally ‘add up’.

Inappropriate self-disclosure and blaming of others

  • Claim that they themselves are being victimised by others or treated unfairly.
  • Administrators who give personal information about themselves to appear vulnerable or naïve.
  • Where organisers give accounts of series of disasters in their own lives.
  • Where administrators / rescuers make reference to their own mental health or physical problems.
  • Administrators / ‘rescuers’ who, when confronted, blame each other for what has happened.

Behaviours by those following and commenting on posts

  • Where there are very clear factions that quickly develop within those commenting on the information given by the individual or group.
  • When some start to ask for clearer information and question factual accuracy others will defend the ‘rescuers’ very doggedly.
  • Where individuals feel embarrassed and / or angry when they realise that they have been taken in by ‘rescuers’ and the support that they have given them.