By: Annie Mullican

Social media has become a huge part of everyone’s daily lives. It serves many purposes, both good and bad, but questions have arisen about what individuals can and should be exposed to on the internet; questions about what it means to participate in social media. Are you responsible for everything that appears on your timeline? If you join social media for the sole purpose of keeping in contact with old friends, are you consenting to every image that pops up on your screen? I got Facebook when I studied abroad for a year in Scotland. I got it to keep in touch with friends through wifi, since I had no cell service. I’ve kept my profile active since graduating college because I enjoy hearing from friends and family that I’m no longer close to, but I am not an avid poster. Sometimes I get on Facebook and frankly, I am not at all prepared for what I see – whether it is a sponsored ad, a news story, a friend’s post or even a post shared/liked by some of my friends. Do social media users have to deal with seeing graphic images just to participate in the site? This question has been in the forefront of my mind recently because it is deer hunting season.

I’m from Indiana, and deer hunting season is celebrated prolifically. This means that when I go to check a notification, I inevitably see a slain deer, or several. Most often there is blood, a wound, open eyes and mouth, tongue lolled to the side, a shotgun, and a person straddling that deer. At first I passed these pictures by, but it became so prolific that I began unfollowing people. They pop up on instagram too. Finally, I mentioned it to my roommate. She agreed that it ruined her day. We brought it up later with more friends. They all agreed that they disliked seeing these pictures, they unfollowed the posters, and it made them very uncomfortable at the least. As a law student, several thoughts came to mind: is this allowed? Can it be stopped – with constitutional implications in mind? If we receive a trigger warning when an internet news article contains graphic images, can’t we do that with the social media posts? What would the basis be for a law mitigating this behavior – and, is it feasible?

Namibia, a country in South Africa, is making moves to outlaw the posting of slain animals on social media.[1] As recently as August 2018, articles were being posted claiming that Namibia planned on outlawing the practice, and punishing individuals who posted pictures of slain animals online.[2] The country plans on doing so by amending Sec. 4 of its Nature Conservation Ordinance of 1975.[3] The Namibian Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta cited two reasons for the amendment: first, he felt that while Namibia is a popular hunting ground, those pictures did not accurately depict the hunting in Namibia, and second, he stated that posting pictures of hunted animals was unethical.[4] It is important to note that hunting is permitted and remains permitted in Namibia.[5] This amendment does not affect an individual’s ability to take pictures of slain animals for private use.[6] It would only apply to posted pictures of slain animals.[7] Moreover, despite the legality of hunting in Namibia, this amendment would apply to everyone, including hunters with permits.[8] This appears to be a good compromise. It allows the hunters to hunt, but prevents those uninterested in hunting from being exposed to graphic images. Should –can– the United States be doing something similar?

The U.S. bans the creation, sale, or possession of videos, pictures depicting animal cruelty, but only if it is used to gain profit.[9] In U.S. v. Stevens, the Supreme Court ruled that “depiction of animal cruelty” was not an exception to the First Amendment.[10] None of these laws are exactly on point to this issue, so should Facebook itself be making the stand against these pictures?

In 2014, Facebook announced that they deleted a young woman’s trophy hunting photo because it directly violated their terms of service.[11] These terms ban “graphic images shared for sadistic effect or to celebrate or glorify violence.”[12] Often, public uproar comes with the posting of a slain rhino, giraffe, or lion, but there is more to this issue than preserving beautiful and big game animals – which is a noble cause. This issue is about the graphicness of images that depict any slain animal regularly on social media. I, like most people, don’t consider hunting to be sadistic, but indeed, taking a picture for personal use and posting a slain animal on the internet are different things. Regardless, there are tools to address this issue – whether it be through a more on-point and narrow law, like Namibia’s new amendment, or more strict enforcing of Facebook terms of service.

[1] Namibia Plans to Make Posting Images of Dead Wildlife to Social Media Illegal,  MYPROPERTY(Aug. 7, 2018), https://www.myproperty.com.na/news/16720/namibia-plans-to-make-posting-images-of-dead–wildlife-to-social-media-illegal/.

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[9]Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law and Legal Definition, https://definitions.uslegal.com/d/depiction-of-animal-cruelty/

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[11]Polly Mosendz, “Facebook Officially Doesn’t Approve of Dead Animals or Baby Butts,” THE ATLANTIC (July 9, 2014), https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/07/facebook-doesnt-approve-of-dead-animals-or-baby-butts/374180/

[12]Id.

Image Source: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiNmZfxqdneAhXDneAKHfL-D0MQjRx6BAgBEAU&url=https%3A%2F%2Fstrikingattheroots.wordpress.com%2F2010%2F03%2F30%2Fgetting-active-for-animals-with-facebook%2F&psig=AOvVaw0jOqNSTAdDq_uml_uPIWN-&ust=1542471934742765

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