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The animal protection non-profit Lady Freethinker has sued YouTube in California for failing to take down videos of animal abuse and profiting from them by selling ads. 

Nina Jackel, founder of Lady Freethinker — a US non-profit which believes that by changing the policies that allow cruelty human-caused suffering of all species can end — filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court in Santa Clara claiming that YouTube breached its contract by failing to take action on user reports about their videos. In particular, videos showing animal fights, humans inflicting pain and suffering on animals, and staged rescues that put animals in danger (the prohibition of the latter has now been explicitly added in the company’s policies). 

The New York Times reported that had seen YouTube videos of people tormenting monkeys and a python trying to suffocate a puppy, accompanied by adverts of several well-known brands that would generate revenue for the company. According to the newspaper, YouTube eventually deleted nine out of the ten example videos they found.

Lawyers from Lady Freethinker stated that “It is unfortunate that YouTube has chosen to put profits over principles of ethical and humane treatment of innocent animals.”

In December 2020, Lady Freethinker released the results of an unprecedented investigation. It claimed to have identified 2,053 videos spread over 150 channels (collectively gathering over 1.2 billion views) involving animals deliberately harmed for entertainment or depicted them in severe mental distress, serious pain, or dead. Lady Freethinker alleged that from April to July 2020, YouTube removed only 185 of these.

At that time, a spokeswoman for YouTube said: “YouTube’s community guidelines prohibit any violent or gory content intended to shock or disgust viewers, including the unnecessary infliction of harm on animals. We routinely remove videos and comments flagged by our community that violate those policies, and in many cases, we terminate the accounts of users who violate our guidelines.”In its policies, YouTube has various exemptions to its rules against videos depicting harm to animals (such as legal hunting, educational content, food slaughtering, and medical research). It also enjoys substantial protections against lawsuits for animal abuse content under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. On innumerable occasions, lawsuits against social media platforms for their moderation policies have failed. Perhaps this one may be different.