Social media has adverse impact on Scottish SPCA’s work to protect animals

Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn is urging the public not to call its helpline to report what they've seen on Facebook posts. (Photo: Peter Devlin)
Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn is urging the public not to call its helpline to report what they've seen on Facebook posts. (Photo: Peter Devlin)

The Scottish SPCA is warning of the dangers of social media following several posts which have tied up valuable resources for the charity.

The most recent case involved a spaniel, which was photographed by a member of the public with a visible abscess, sparking widespread social media outrage and dozens of calls to the Scottish SPCA’s animal helpline.

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: “Our inspectors were at the owner’s property within two hours of the initial report and we worked with the owner to ensure that the dog was seen by a vet that same day. Sadly, the professional opinion of the vet was that it was in the best interest of the animal’s welfare to put him to sleep.

“The dog was 16 years old and the vet advised that attempting to treat the wound was not appropriate considering the dog’s age. This case was made much more difficult by the amount of misinformation on social media.

“Our helpline was also flooded with calls from people asking for updates about the social media post, which meant members of the public with genuine emergencies to report may have been delayed in getting through.”

In 2019 the Scottish SPCA received almost 500 calls regarding Facebook, many of which it was unable to respond to due to the reports being from third parties who did not have any information about the individual they were trying to report.

Mike added: “While we rely on the public to be our eyes and ears, we must stress we can only take reports about incidents they have concrete information about or have witnessed themselves.

“We can’t take reports via our social media channels and we can’t investigate incidents in other countries as we only operate in Scotland.

“Our helpline is there is take reports of animals in need of help or provide advice to the public. The service is not there to give updates on social media posts.

“Often, when a case is ongoing we are limited in what we can say to the public as it could affect our chances of a successful prosecution. In fact, in the past, cases have fallen apart due to the interference of people on social media.

“The society is always happy to help and offer advice but when we receive a high number of calls from those who have seen a post on social media and cannot provide eyewitness testimony, this can tie up valuable resources and time when we could be tending to animals in need of our help.

“We understand animal welfare is an emotive subject and the public often acting with good intentions, but we’d urge them to think carefully about what they post on social media, and when they contact us, as they could end up doing more harm than good.”

Anyone who has legitimate concerns about an animal and can give a witness statement should call the Scottish SPCA animal helpline on 03000 999 999. Information is received in strict confidence and can be left anonymously.