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Spring 2014 - Act•ionLine

#AnimalsForSale: How Instagram’s Lack of Regulations Aids the Animal Black Market

Popular social media site, Instagram, is becoming an uregulated animal black market where users can advertise and buy live animals, from puppies to exotic pets, quickly and easily.

By Meghan McIntire

Kittens in sweaters, dogs frolicking through snow, chipmunks on windowsills -- if there is one thing that captures attention on social media, it’s a picture of a cute animal. Entire fan bases form around certain animals, like Grumpy Cat or the dog Boo, and result in websites, book deals, television shows and more. 

But when you combine social media’s cute-pet obsession with the speed and accessibility of the internet, you find a disturbing trend emerging: It’s becoming increasingly acceptable for people to use social media to advertise and purchase animals quickly and easily, particularly on Instagram. 

Instagram, a service used primarily on smartphones, allows users to take photographs, apply editing tools like filters and frames, hashtag their photos with descriptions (like #NewYorkCity or #Vacation) and then upload them for their followers to see.

With more than 100 million active users and a lack of community guidelines, it is the perfect platform for those wanting to be noticed -- and those who want to make money. 

Although it was never intended to act as an online marketplace, Instagram is rapidly becoming a site where users advertise things they’re looking to sell, be it clothing, cars, appliances or animals. 

A quick search on the site using the term #forsale, brings up more than a million different results, and scattered throughout them are a wide variety of animals. Dogs, cats, exotic turtles, sheep -- there’s a virtual zoo right at the fingertips of anyone looking to buy. 

As a site that is known for being a place where people can document their daily activities and capture photos of things as mundane as what they ate for lunch or the traffic jam they’re stuck in, it’s a completely inappropriate place for people to bargain over the price of a living creature. 

Many individuals use their personal accounts to put up pictures of pets they can no longer care for or kittens and puppies they’re selling after their pet had a litter. Others, who are considered “backyard breeders,” conduct unregulated breeding of their animals for the sole purpose of making money. This type of breeding potentially results in animal suffering and neglect since the owners aren’t held to a minimum standard of care, and neither are those who purchase them. At the moment, Instagram serves as a perfect place for backyard breeders to use as a virtual showroom for the animals they have for sale and to contact interested buyers. 

Other accounts specialize in exotic pets and feature pictures of each animal that is available for purchase. One account, @SuziesZooPets, shows dozens of different species -- from rodents to African dwarf frogs -- all of them with a dollar price in their descriptions.  

Allowing people to post ads for exotic animals is problematic since it lets users occasionally bypass national and state laws that would be enforced at shelters and pet stores.  Many states have their own rules about what exotic animals can be kept and sold as pets in their area, but Instagram has made it easy for people to circumvent these laws and contact the sellers of exotic pets all over the country. 

Some of the most disturbing instances on Instagram involve accounts that sell animals that are meant to be slaughtered during religious rituals or other events. One account, @Sheeps_sell, which is located in Kuwait and has more than 2,000 followers, features dozens of pictures of rams and sheep. One picture’s caption reads, “We have them all, sacrificial and carcasses of all ages. We will bring them to you for all events and birthdays….We deliver to all the neighborhoods of Kuwait.”

What makes this issue even more problematic is the fact that Instagram is one of the only social networking sites that does not outwardly prohibit the selling of animals. Facebook, Amazon, Craigslist and eBay all have rules against selling live animals in their terms and conditions and do not tolerate it for most instances on their sites. Instagram, on the other hand, does not include anything in their community guidelines about the sale of items, let alone animals. 

In a somewhat ironic twist, Instagram does have rules about what words users can put in their photo descriptions and bans words like “sexy” and certain profanity.But there is no rule prohibiting photos with captions about the sale of live animals. 

Instagram’s tolerance of the selling of live animals leads to a sense of casualness about animal’s lives and downplays the serious decision of purchasing a pet. The fact that animals are considered  things one can purchase quickly and informally puts them on the same level as any other object people are selling, like iPads or DVDs, and is resulting in a total disrespect for the lives of the animals for sale. 

Kittens in sweaters, dogs frolicking through snow, chipmunks on windowsills -- if there is one thing that captures attention on social media, it’s a picture of a cute animal. Entire fan bases form around certain animals, like Grumpy Cat or the dog Boo, and result in websites, book deals, television shows and more. 

But when you combine social media’s cute-pet obsession with the speed and accessibility of the internet, you find a disturbing trend emerging: It’s becoming increasingly acceptable for people to use social media to advertise and purchase animals quickly and easily, particularly on Instagram. 

Instagram, a service used primarily on smartphones, allows users to take photographs, apply editing tools like filters and frames, hashtag their photos with descriptions (like #NewYorkCity or #Vacation) and then upload them for their followers to see.

With more than 100 million active users and a lack of community guidelines, it is the perfect platform for those wanting to be noticed -- and those who want to make money. 

Although it was never intended to act as an online marketplace, Instagram is rapidly becoming a site where users advertise things they’re looking to sell, be it clothing, cars, appliances or animals. 

A quick search on the site using the term #forsale, brings up more than a million different results, and scattered throughout them are a wide variety of animals. Dogs, cats, exotic turtles, sheep -- there’s a virtual zoo right at the fingertips of anyone looking to buy. 

As a site that is known for being a place where people can document their daily activities and capture photos of things as mundane as what they ate for lunch or the traffic jam they’re stuck in, it’s a completely inappropriate place for people to bargain over the price of a living creature. 

Many individuals use their personal accounts to put up pictures of pets they can no longer care for or kittens and puppies they’re selling after their pet had a litter. Others, who are considered “backyard breeders,” conduct unregulated breeding of their animals for the sole purpose of making money. This type of breeding potentially results in animal suffering and neglect since the owners aren’t held to a minimum standard of care, and neither are those who purchase them. At the moment, Instagram serves as a perfect place for backyard breeders to use as a virtual showroom for the animals they have for sale and to contact interested buyers. 

Other accounts specialize in exotic pets and feature pictures of each animal that is available for purchase. One account, @SuziesZooPets, shows dozens of different species -- from rodents to African dwarf frogs -- all of them with a dollar price in their descriptions.  

Allowing people to post ads for exotic animals is problematic since it lets users occasionally bypass national and state laws that would be enforced at shelters and pet stores.  Many states have their own rules about what exotic animals can be kept and sold as pets in their area, but Instagram has made it easy for people to circumvent these laws and contact the sellers of exotic pets all over the country. 

Some of the most disturbing instances on Instagram involve accounts that sell animals that are meant to be slaughtered during religious rituals or other events. One account, @Sheeps_sell, which is located in Kuwait and has more than 2,000 followers, features dozens of pictures of rams and sheep. One picture’s caption reads, “We have them all, sacrificial and carcasses of all ages. We will bring them to you for all events and birthdays….We deliver to all the neighborhoods of Kuwait.”

What makes this issue even more problematic is the fact that Instagram is one of the only social networking sites that does not outwardly prohibit the selling of animals. Facebook, Amazon, Craigslist and eBay all have rules against selling live animals in their terms and conditions and do not tolerate it for most instances on their sites. Instagram, on the other hand, does not include anything in their community guidelines about the sale of items, let alone animals. 

In a somewhat ironic twist, Instagram does have rules about what words users can put in their photo descriptions and bans words like “sexy” and certain profanity.But there is no rule prohibiting photos with captions about the sale of live animals. 

Instagram’s tolerance of the selling of live animals leads to a sense of casualness about animal’s lives and downplays the serious decision of purchasing a pet. The fact that animals are considered  things one can purchase quickly and informally puts them on the same level as any other object people are selling, like iPads or DVDs, and is resulting in a total disrespect for the lives of the animals for sale. 

 

Act•ionLine Spring 2014

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