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Social media: A blessing and a curse

Our Social Media Manager, Tess Macpherson-Woods, shares her experience working here in the busy world of social media.

When I tell people what I do for a living, I think this often conjures up images of me surrounded by kittens and puppies, scrolling through Facebook at my leisure... As much as I love my job, kittens and puppies - this couldn't be further from the truth!

Social media can be both a blessing and a curse to charities and businesses, but particularly so for us here. As a nation of animal lovers, we all feel very strongly about speaking up for the voiceless, and want to help - but as well-intentioned as posts and comments online may be, they can sometimes make it harder for us to help.

Social media has the power to help animals every day

Every day we use social media to achieve amazing things, from finding perpetrators of animal cruelty, to rehoming animals, offering the best pet care advice, and gathering petition signatures to change the law.

My team sees both the best and worst in people - those who are committing cruelty, and those who are actively trying to stop it or seek justice for them. We're incredibly grateful for these passionate and dedicated animal lovers - we couldn't help as many animals as we do without them!

The darker side of social media

Unfortunately, with social media also comes fake news, malicious rumours and inaccuracies, which can spread like wildfire. Sometimes such posts are shared by people who don't understand the restrictions we face as a charity, or our very stretched resources; other times they're shared by people who have had a negative experience with us in the past, perhaps due to harming an animal themselves. These posts are not only damaging to our reputation, affecting our ability to help animals, but they can also be unintentionally damaging to specific animals' lives.

In the past reports have been made to us, with people expecting immediate action and updates, and have then shared our perceived lack of action on social media. In doing so, this has given the owner a 'heads-up' about our potential involvement, leading to the animals being moved and us being unable to intervene, or conditions improving, but only to the extent that they're legally compliant, as opposed to endorsed by us.

There are times when people wrongly claim to have reported concerns to us, say we've not attended when we've barely been given a chance to do so, or tell the world that we don't care. Often the truth is that it was reported to a branch who don't have their own inspectors, we're tackling the issue behind-the-scenes (and can't tell people due to GDPR), or that we're unable to act because the law won't allow us to - but not because we don't want to.

How to separate truth from fake news

Each day, my small team deals with hundreds of messages on our social channels. We love speaking to inspirational animal advocates, passionate pet owners, keen campaigners, and fabulous fundraisers - but we also have to deal with terrible trolls. People on social media often seem to take things at face value, but there's normally so much more to a story than meets the eye.

It's a sad fact that there will always be people that don't like us. As an organisation which investigates and prosecutes people for animal cruelty, we'll always have enemies, and people's expectations of us (often, wrongly, as the animal police!) will always be far greater than we can realistically deliver.

As a charity, we have no legal powers and a call comes in every 30 seconds, but we have only 400 full-time members of staff in our inspectorate to pick up these calls. Meanwhile, people's expectations are that we should arrive within minutes to seize an abused dog without evidence or the police to sign them over to us, always be there to collect a poorly but mobile fox, or immediately come to the rescue of a legally tethered, healthy horse. Whilst we wish we could do all these things within a matter of minutes, we simply can't. Unfortunately, receiving more calls about these incidents without more information won't help the situation - and sharing the issue online and trolling us will also make things more difficult to solve.

What to do if you see something worrying online

If you're looking to report animal welfare concerns, we'd urge you to contact our national cruelty line on 0300 1234 999, as only they can task a report to an officer. If you've had a negative experience, or don't feel that your concerns were dealt with appropriately, please make a service complaint so we can look into whether we've done all we can.

And if you see something about us not helping, I'd urge you to take it with a pinch of salt and not click the 'share' or 'retweet' button. Question whether it sounds legitimate, and if you're worried, send us a private message on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram; if we can divulge more information or set the story straight, we will. Just like our colleagues on the frontline, each of us cares deeply about animals, which is why we work here.

I hope this has been an interesting insight into my work-world, and thank you to each and every one of you who adores animals as much as we do, and fights to protect them. Come and speak to us online, and if you fancy bringing a smile to our faces, send us a cute animal pic every once in a while - it makes all the difference!

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