All posts in “Social Good”

A totally doable, not so intimidating self-care survival guide to 2018

After an October week from hell — when allegations against Harvey Weinstein first began to unravel, Donald Trump threatened to take aid away from Puerto Rico, women boycotted Twitter, and historic wildfires destroyed California — I splurged on a large Blue Raspberry Icee and sat alone in a 12:15 p.m. Saturday showing of Marshall. I turned my phone all the way off, and over the course of the next two hours I ugly cried in the dark.

Afterwards, I drove to a bookstore and spent $82.47. I went home, applied a face mask and collapsed onto my bed, escaping into the pages of one of my new books for hours. I met my friend for dinner, cherished every single bite of a cheeseburger, rushed back to my pillow, and fell asleep before watching re-runs of The Mindy Project.

This was my own personal form of self-care.

For so many, self-care has been the unsung savior of 2017. You’ve probably heard the term thrown around daily, but learning exactly what it means and why it’s so essential will help to better practice it in the new year.

Am I doing this thing right?

Self-care methods — personalized rituals that allow people to take a step back from this messy world to prioritize their well-being and preserve their mental health — differ for each individual and in each scenario, so there’s really no right or wrong.

For Hillary Clinton self-care could mean anything from frantic closet cleaning, long walks in the woods, and playing with her dogs, to yoga or sitting down to enjoy a glass of wine. For Michael Phelps, who’s conquered the pressures of Olympic competition but has struggled with depression and anxiety over the years, it’s working out or heading to the golf course. The only constant is that methods of self-care must benefit and focus on you.

“A lot of times people will say ‘I spend time with my kids,’ which is great and meaningful but that’s still taking care of somebody else,” said Monnica Williams, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and associate professor at University of Connecticut’s Department of Psychological Sciences. “When you self-care it’s really about you recharging.”

Self-care isn’t selfish

Some people abstain from self-care for fear that their behavior would come across as selfish. They simply can’t resist the urge to put other people first.

According to a 2017 “Women’s Wellness Report” from Everyday Health, which studied 3,000 women from ages 25 to 65 in the U.S., 76 percent of women said they were were more likely to put their own personal needs after someone else’s. However, more than half of the participants said that taking time for themselves was the greatest factor in achieving wellness. (Disclosure: Mashable and Everyday Health are owned by the same company, Ziff Davis.) 

“You can’t be the best you in any other contexts if you’re not taking care of yourself.”

“It’s essential for your mental health and your physical health,” Williams said, noting that self-care is anything but selfish. “You can’t be the best you in any other contexts if you’re not taking care of yourself.”

“I heard someone say that it’s like putting on your own oxygen mask in an airplane emergency before putting one on a child,” added Crystal Park, another professor at the University of Connecticut’s Department of Psychological Sciences. 

“The healthier and more resilient we are, the more effective we can be in our lives.”

Heading into 2018 with some solid self-care guidelines will help you better manage your stress and survive whatever challenges are in store, so here are a few to keep in mind.

Don’t be afraid to take a mental health day

Your mental health is important, but it’s also extremely easy to ignore. When your job gets too overwhelming or events in your personal life prevent or distract you from doing your best work in the office it’s time to take a step back.

For inspiration, look no further than one of 2017’s viral personal tales: the story of Olark CEO Ben Congleton advocating for his employee after learning she’d taken time off for mental health reasons.

After Congleton’s understanding email sparked discussion about mental health in the workplace, he wrote a post on Medium further emphasizing the need to normalize it.

When you are at work, take additional steps to make your environment a place of comfort. Personalize your desk with a plant, a framed photo of something that makes you smile, or set the mood with a tiny lamp. 

And every so often, book a conference room for lunch with your coworkers to share pizza and a cake you buy for the sole reason of craving cake. Work will still be there when your lunch break ends, but taking time to clear your head is crucial.

Give social media and screens a rest

Social media usage often starts with the intention of getting caught up on current events and quickly spirals into a black hole of negativity.

“So many people are plugged in and instantly alerted to everything that is happening in the news in ways that weren’t possible 10 years ago,” said Dr. Carolyn Mazure, director of Women’s Health Research at Yale.

While platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have been proven to take a toll on self-esteem and mental health, social media isn’t all bad.

Here are a few ways to make online communities safer spaces for you:

  • Follow encouraging accounts like Janelle Silver‘s, who promotes her self-care-themed Etsy store.

  • Unfollow people on Facebook. (This helps you to remain friends with them but hides their posts from your timeline.)

  • Turn off push notifications.

  • Use Twitter’s mute feature to shield yourself from triggering words.

Transform your cell phone into a self-care hub 

While it’s healthy to disconnect from technology every so often, when you do have your phone by your side these tips can help make the experience more enjoyable.

  • Make use of your Do Not Disturb function.

  • Free up some storage space by parting with old text messages you have no intention of ever revisiting, deleting unused apps and contacts, and loading all photos and videos onto your laptop so you’re left with an empty album.

  • Download self-care apps related to deep breathing, meditation, list-making, and maybe even a relaxing game or two, like Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.

  • Create empowering or soothing playlists so you can easily listen to mood-lifting music on-the-go.

Treat Yo Self, but treat others, too

No matter how small, make a daily attempt to treat yourself to an experience or a purchase that’ll brighten your mood.

Get a pedicure or massage, take a hot bath, go for a walk around the block, go out with friends, or cancel plans to stay in on a Friday night to recharge and binge-watch mindless television, if that’s what you need.

And while being good to oneself is key, Park noted “balance is important” in self-care, and making an effort to give back to others often helps people feel better. Consider volunteering, or clean out your closets and drawers to donate unwanted items to charity.

Put positivity on display

One form of self-care can be as simple as not being so hard on yourself all the time. It sounds simple, but it can be a serious challenge at times. Visual reminders can help.

When in doubt, turn to this handy self-care printable, titled “Everything is Awful and I’m Not Okay.” The checklist presents 16 questions for you to answer and serves as a helpful reminder to stay hydrated, shower, participate in physical activity, and be kind to yourself.

Keep a copy of the printout in your bag for comfort or hang it somewhere you know you’ll see it.  (Mashable HQ has one on the wall of the women’s restroom.)

Affirmations are another great way to be kind to yourself and can serve as help. Glancing at inspirational quotes, uplifting doodles, or a few words of positivity can lift your spirits. The Mashable women’s restroom also has a few on display. (Very good restroom.)

Image: nicole gallucci/mashable

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Though the term self-care sounds like an isolated practice, it doesn’t have to be.

If you’re someone who struggles to commit to individual self-care routines, or simply takes enjoyment from the company of others, spending time with and opening up to a friend, loved one, therapist, or even reaching out to the Crisis Text Line could be extremely beneficial.

Just know that you’re not alone in your stress and professionals are out there to help. 

“Certainly, if possible, try to see a stressful situation as an opportunity to grow, and consider the power of reorienting how you confront a stressful situation when it arrives,” Mazure said.

“Instead of thinking, ‘Oh no, not again,’ perhaps a good self-care perspective might be, ‘I’ve seen stress before. I’ve got this.'”

If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources. 

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Facebook on how it affects your mental health: It’s you, not them

Facebook is a symbol of one of the great debates of the 21st century: Is social media a gift to humanity, or is it a curse that drives us further apart and deeper into our own ideological echo chambers? 

There is no simple answer to that question, which is why it frequently becomes a cultural obsession as it did this week, when a recent video surfaced of a former Facebook executive decrying the negative effects of social media. 

Now Facebook is joining the conversation with a lengthy blog post about its efforts to understand how the social media platform affects users’ well-being. The bottom line is that whether or not social media makes us miserable seems to depend on how we use it, say Facebook’s David Ginsberg, director of research, and Moira Burke, a research scientist. 

“According to the research, it really comes down to how you use the technology.”

“According to the research, it really comes down to how you use the technology,” write Ginsberg and Burke. “For example, on social media, you can passively scroll through posts, much like watching TV, or actively interact with friends — messaging and commenting on each other’s posts.  

Passively consuming social media has been linked to negative effects, whereas active engagement may be capable of boosting well-being, say Ginsberg and Burke. (It’s worth noting that more engaged users are likely more valuable to Facebook’s advertising business.)

That draws a fascinating line between Facebook and critics who argue that social media can have a poisonous effect on people’s self-esteem, their relationships, and their ability to consume and reflect on the news. Facebook’s position seems to be that those unpleasant experiences aren’t caused directly by its product, but by how people engage with the platform. 

That’s a much more optimistic view of social media than what Chamath Palihapitiya, the company’s former vice president for user growth, shared with an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business last month. 

“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” Palihapitiya said, describing the habit-forming nature of online interactions (think the rush of receiving comments, likes, and hearts on your social media posts.) 

After these comments became widely publicized this week, he used a Facebook post to clarify that he believes the company is “a force for good in the world.” 

“Facebook has made tremendous strides in coming to terms with its unforeseen influence and, more so than any of its peers, the team there has taken real steps to course correct,” he wrote. 

But Palihapitiya is not the only one alarmed by the way social media influences our behavior. Last month, Sean Parker, Facebook’s founding president, said the company is “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” that primes humans to crave validation. 

“Facebook has made tremendous strides in coming to terms with its unforeseen influence.”

Ginsberg and Burke don’t name Palihapitiya or Parker. They do reference scientific studies that are both flattering and unfavorable to Facebook. The company’s own research, in partnership with a Carnegie Mellon University psychologist, found that users who sent or received more messages, comments, and posts to their profile said their feelings of depression and loneliness improved. But another experiment that randomly assigned students the task of reading Facebook for 10 minutes were in a worse mood by the end of the day than those who posted or talked to friends on Facebook. Other research suggests screen time, including social media, takes a toll on teens’ health. 

Negative effects, say Ginsberg and Burke, might be related to the uncomfortable experience of reading about others and comparing yourself negatively to them. Time spent on social media and on the internet might also reduce in-person socialization, which can lead to feelings of isolation. 

Though Facebook has previously commented on its own well-being research, the blog post offers a candid discussion of the negative aspects of social media, along with details about the company’s efforts to understand those dynamics. 

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The post doesn’t contain unexpected revelations, but it does include insights about how Facebook views its controversial role in mediating hundreds, if not thousands, of small moments in a person’s everyday life.

Ginsberg and Burke write that the company has already made significant changes to News Feed by demoting clickbait and false news, optimizing ranking so posts from close friends are more likely to show up first, and promoting posts that are “personally informative.” The blog post also announces the launch of Snooze, a feature people can use to tune out a friend’s posts for 30 days without having to permanently unfollow or unfriend them. 

Ginsberg and Burke add that Facebook will continue to research well-being and make new efforts to understand “digital distraction.” It will also put on a summit next year with academics and industry leaders to “tackle” these complex issues.

While the public might wait for Facebook, and the broader tech and research communities, to solve this riddle, Ginsberg and Burke touch on a sensitive subject: personal responsibility. Their focus on how the effects of social media change depending on a user’s style of engagement — mindless scrolling versus active participation — hints at the possibility that users may need to be more aware of (and adapt) their behavior if they want to feel better.

That might be hard, though, for users who count on being able to choose a thumbs-up or heart and move on with their lives. 

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Facebook’s AI suicide prevention tool can save lives, but the company won’t say how it works

For many people who’ve dedicated their lives to preventing suicide, social media posts can be a precious dataset that contains hints about what people say and do before they attempt suicide.  

In the past few years, researchers have built algorithms to learn which words and emoji are associated with suicidal thoughts. They’ve even used social media posts to retrospectively predict the suicide deaths of certain Facebook users. 

Now Facebook itself has rolled out new artificial intelligence that can proactively identify heightened suicide risk and alert a team of human reviewers who are trained to reach out to a user contemplating fatal self-harm. 

An example of what someone may see if Facebook detects they need help.

An example of what someone may see if Facebook detects they need help.

Image: Facebook

The technology, announced Monday, represents an unparalleled opportunity to understand and predict suicide risk. Before the AI tool was even publicly announced, Facebook used it to help dispatch first responders in 100 “wellness checks” to ensure a user’s safety. The tool’s life-saving potential is huge, but the company won’t share many details about how it works or whether it’ll broadly share its findings with academics and researchers. 

That is bound to leave some experts in the field confused and concerned. 

Munmun De Choudhury, an assistant professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech, commends the social media company for focusing on suicide prevention, but she would like Facebook to be more transparent about its algorithms. 

“This is not just another AI tool — it tackles a really sensitive issue,” she said. “It’s a matter of somebody’s life and death.” 

“This is not just another AI tool — it tackles a really sensitive issue. It’s a matter of somebody’s life and death.” 

Facebook understands the stakes, which is why its VP of product management, Guy Rosen, emphasized in an interview how AI significantly hastens the process of identifying distressed users and getting them resources or help. 

But he declined to talk in-depth about the algorithm’s factors beyond a few general examples, like worried comments from friends and family, the time of day, and the text in a user’s post. Rosen also said the company, which has partnerships with suicide-prevention organizations, wants to learn from researchers, but he wouldn’t discuss how or if Facebook might publish or share insights from its use of AI. 

“We want to be very open about this,” he said. 

While transparency might not be Facebook’s strength, in a field like suicide prevention it could help other experts save more lives by revealing behavior or language patterns that emerge prior to suicidal thinking or a suicide attempt. With more than 2 billion users, Facebook arguably has the largest database of such content in the world. 

De Choudhury says transparency is vital when it comes to AI because transparency instills trust, a sentiment that’s in short supply as people worry about technology’s potential to fundamentally disrupt their professional and personal lives. Without enough trust in the tool, says De Choudhury, at-risk users may decide against sharing emotionally vulnerable or suicidal posts. 

When users receive a message from Facebook, it doesn’t indicate that AI identified them as high risk. Instead, they’re told that “someone thinks you might need extra support right now and asked us to help.” That someone, though, is a human reviewer who followed up on the AI detection of risk.

It’s also currently impossible to know how the AI determines that someone is at imminent risk, the algorithm’s accuracy, or how it makes mistakes when looking for clues of suicidal thinking. Since users won’t know they were flagged by AI, they have no way of telling Facebook that it wrongly identified them as suicidal. 

De Choudhury’s research involves analyzing social media to glean information about people’s mental and emotional wellbeing, so she understands the challenges of both developing an effective algorithm and deciding which data to publish. 

She acknowledges that Facebook must strike a delicate balance. Sharing certain aspects of its findings, for example, could lead users to oversimplify suicide risk by focusing on key words or other signals of distress. And it could potentially give people with bad intentions data points they could use to analyze social media posts, identify those with perceived mental health issues, and target them for harassment or discrimination. 

“I think sharing how the algorithm works, even if they don’t reveal every excruciating detail, would be really beneficial.” 

Facebook also faces a different set of expectations and pressures as a private company. It may consider its suicide prevention AI tool intellectual property developed for the public good. It might want to use features of that intellectual property to enhance its offerings to marketers and advertisers; after all, pinpointing a user’s emotional state is something that could be highly valuable to Facebook’s marketplace competitiveness. The company has previously expressed interest in developing that ability. 

Whatever the case, De Choudhury argues that Facebook can still contribute to broader efforts to use social media to understand suicide without compromising people’s safety and the company’s bottom line. 

“I think academically sharing how the algorithm works, even if they don’t reveal every excruciating detail, would be really beneficial,” she says, “…because right now it’s really a black box.”  

Crisis Text Line, which partnered with Facebook to provide suicide prevention resources and support to users, does use AI to determine people’s suicide risk — and shares its findings with researchers and the public. 

“With the scale of data and number of people Facebook has in its system, it could be an incredibly valuable dataset for academics and researchers to understanding suicide risk,” said Bob Filbin, ‎chief data scientist for ‎Crisis Text Line. 

Filbin didn’t know Facebook was developing AI to predict suicide risk until Monday, but he said that Crisis Text Line is a proud partner and eager to work with the company to prevent suicide. 

Crisis Text Line trains counselors to deescalate texters from “hot to cool” and uses first responders as a last resort. Facebook’s human reviewers confirm the AI’s detection of risk by examining the user’s posts. They provide resources and contact emergency services when necessary, but do not further engage the user. 

Filbin expects Facebook’s AI to pick up on different signals than what surfaces in Crisis Text Line’s data. People who contact the line do so looking for help and therefore may be more explicit in how they communicate suicidal thoughts and feelings. 

One simple example is how texters at higher risk of suicide say they “need” to speak to a counselor. That urgency — compared to “want” — is just one factor that the line’s AI uses to make a judgment about risk. Another is the word “ibuprofen,” which Crisis Text Line discovered is 16 times more likely to predict the person texting needs emergency services than the word suicide. 

Filbin said that Crisis Text Line’s algorithm can identify 80 percent of text conversations that end up requiring an emergency response within the first three messages.  

That is the kind of insight that counselors, therapists, and doctors hope to one day possess. It’s clear that Facebook, by virtue of its massive size and commitment to suicide prevention, is now  leading the effort to somehow put that knowledge into the hands of people who can save lives. 

Whether or not Facebook accepts that position — and the transparency it requires — is a question the company would rather not answer yet. At some point, though, it won’t have any other option.

If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources. 

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Viral video brilliantly skewers ‘white saviors’ taking poverty porn selfies

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A new viral video is taking on the “white savior complex” in a truly hilarious way.

“How to Get More Likes on Social Media” is an animated parody video featuring a young woman who’s disheartened by her lack of Instagram likes. How does she fix it? She heads over to an unnamed country in Africa (“Real Africa,” that is), and snaps some selfies with sick and impoverished children.

Before long, engagement on her Instagram selfies jump from a measly three likes to a whopping 9,859.

The video is part of a new campaign called #NoStereotypes, which discourages volunteers traveling abroad to developing countries from sharing photos that take away from locals’ dignity and privacy. The goal is to push people to have more respect for different cultures, avoid harmful stereotypes, and quit it with the poverty porn once and for all.

#NoStereotypes is a joint effort from Radi-Aid (a project of the nonprofit SAIH Norway) and Barbie Savior, an Instagram parody account using Barbies to mock people who make their volunteer trips all about themselves.

“A lot of these people make empty promises and never come back to the community,” Emily Worrall, creator of Barbie Savior, told NPR.

While the video is funny, the best part of the campaign is an animated social media guide that helps volunteers do impactful work while maintaining the dignity of the communities they’re visiting.

Check out the full guide here, and do better. 

Selfie tourism is killing these incredibly cute creatures

Warning: this article contains images of animal abuse which some may find distressing.

A small furry creature huddles close to a tree branch on the edge of the forest. Its large, globular eyes are shut (it’s daytime, and so now it sleeps); its strong hands and arms hold firm even as it slumbers.

In a deep sleep, the creature doesn’t hear the rustling of approaching predators. Before it knows what’s happening, it’s plucked from the tree and bundled into a bag. When it is finally taken out into the blinding light of day, metal pliers are forced into its mouth to clip its teeth. Then it is shoved into a wire cage, alone and in pain.

Later it is sold for the price of half a pack of cigarettes. A later still bit later still, it’s in a photo on Instagram. It is accompanied by the hashtags #slowloris #adorable #squee.

A loris awaiting sale.

A loris awaiting sale.

Image: international animal rescue

This is just one example of a growing trend which is afflicting many cute and cuddly wild animals across the world

“Efforts are needed to continue to raise awareness of the plight of slow lorises,” is the conclusion to an investigation published earlier this year. “Without a change in attitude from the public, the use of slow lorises as photograph props is likely to continue and to spread.”

Indeed, far from abating, the abuse of the slow loris through social media has taken on yet another dimension in the form of so-called “selfie tourism”.

The background

The slow loris is a small primate that lives in the forests of east Asia. We humans have long posed a threat to the loris — over the past 24 years the Javan slow loris population is suspected to have declined at least 80% due to the pet trade.

But for many people around the world their first introduction to the creature was online. The first hugely popular loris video appeared in 2009 and it showed a loris being “tickled”. For many people this was the first time they’d ever heard of a loris, let alone seen one. More videos followed: lorises clutching tiny umbrellas and nibbling shyly on balls of rice. And so the loris exploded into our collective imaginations as an adorable ball of fluff with eyes to give a Disney princess an inferiority complex. 

How was anyone to know the lorises in these images were suffering terribly?

The adorable animals that we have been watching so avidly were obese, diseased, and in terrible distress. But we failed to notice this because the internet did what the internet does best: it decontextualised them.

A loris having its teeth clipped.

A loris having its teeth clipped.

Image: International animal rescue

We immediately acclimatized to seeing lorises in a domestic environment. The truth is that they are unbelievably ill-suited to being kept as pets. Here are just a few reasons why:  

  • Venemous bite: lorises are the only primate with a venomous bite, so people who sell them as pets often clip their teeth in order to neutralize this.

  • Obesity: in the wild lorises eat tree gum, but people who keep them as pets are often unaware of this. They feed them things like rice and fruit, which although very healthy for humans are way more calorific than the loris’ natural diet, which leads to obesity.

  • Sensitive eyes: lorises’ eyes are adapted for their nocturnal lifestyle, so being around artificial lights is extremely harmful to their eyes and can cause disease and infection.

  • Toxic urine: lorises’ urine is highly toxic, a fact which doesn’t pose a problem in the wild where they pee happily onto the forest floor. In captivity, however, they tend to end up sitting in pools of their own highly damaging urine which, especially when they’re put in nappies (which is not uncommon), leads to necrosis, a.k.a. gangrene — the death of living tissue.

The domino effect

So there are a whole glut of reasons why a loris should never be kept as a pet, but that hasn’t stopped the internet acting as a catalyst in stimulating an ultimately cruel trend around the world. The domestic pet trade has long plagued loris populations, but the proliferation of cute loris videos led to an unprecedented international demand. UK expert Anna Nekaris told Mashable lorises are now popping up in places as far-flung Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Poland — although Japan remains the number one destination for illegally traded lorises. 

These lorises have been captured for the illegal wildlife trade.

These lorises have been captured for the illegal wildlife trade.

Image: International animal rescue

Social media both stimulates and facilitates the illegal trade of lorises. Closed Facebook groups are increasingly being used to advertise the sale of animals, and they pose a serious problem for enforcement because they are hard to find and shut down.

In September, Indonesian police were able to seize nine slow lorises destined for sale on Facebook, but in general it’s incredibly difficult for law enforcement to monitor these groups. Animal welfare groups have questioned how seriously Facebook is taking the matter of their platform being used as a facilitator for illegal trade. 

“We urge Facebook to support efforts to stop wildlife trafficking by blocking and reporting Facebook users who advertise or post pictures of protected wildlife,” said Karmele Llano Sanchez, Programme Director of International Animal Rescue Indonesia, after the Indonesia find.

Mashable reached out to Facebook to ask how they deal with illegal animal trade on their platform. Facebook told us that it prohibits people using their platform for the illegal trade of animals, but were not specific as to how it tackles the problem of traffickers establishing criminal networks using closed groups.

More than a pet

Another problem that’s come to the fore is the fact that lorises aren’t just being bought as pets anymore. People around the world have cottoned on to the loris’ photogenic appeal and are cashing in. Increasingly, lorises have been sold as photo props, a practice which came to light in 2013 when Rihanna posted a picture on Instagram of herself posing with a loris in Thailand.

Loris selfie tourism has now spread well beyond the loris’ natural range.  An investigation by Honor Kitson and Anna Nekaris from summer of this year discovered a number of lorises in Marmaris, Turkey. They were being used in bars as photo props to attract customers. People paid about 10 lira ($2.75 USD) to have their picture taken with the animal. 

Sites like Facebook and Instagram have come under heavy fire for facilitating selfie tourism, especially after a recent report from World Animal Protection exposed the impact it has had on animals in the Amazon. 

“With over 700 million users and 92 million images uploaded to its site every day, Instagram has the power and influence to protect hundreds of thousands of wild animals,” the report states. 

Instagram had this to say in response:

“We prohibit the use of Instagram to facilitate or organize criminal activity that causes physical harm to animals. We remove reported content that promotes poaching of endangered species or the sale of animals for organized fight, and that includes acts of animal abuse. We are in ongoing conversations with wildlife experts and are looking at ways to provide our community with information around activities that can be harmful to animals and nature, such as posting content that may depict exploitation of wildlife and bad welfare practices.”

Mashable reached out to Facebook to ask about their policy regarding reporting images of animal abuse. The campaigner Anna Nekaris told Mashable that she successfully campaigned for a specific ‘report animal abuse’ option to be introduced on Facebook to make the job of animal welfare campaigners that much easier. She told us the option was later removed with no explanation. Facebook has thus far been unable to confirm or deny the existence of this option.

Fighting an image problem

Some effort has already been made to combat the loris’ online image problem. Nekaris started the The Little Fireface Project back in 2011, and International Animal Rescue founded Tickling is Torture in 2015. The campaign aims to educate people about the problems with so-called cute loris vids, asking them to sign the pledge not to share exploitative videos. Their video has had over 122 million views since 2015, and almost 700,000 people have signed the petition.

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But what else can be done?

As the inventors and mass consumers of social media, we have the power to harness the internet’s strength for good. So how best can the average social media user help fight the extinction of the loris?

Tickling is Torture recommends if you see an image or a video of a loris being exploited, don’t share it. If you see a friend sharing that sort of content, or perhaps even posing with a loris in a holiday pic, the campaign recommends a course of action similar to this:

  • Privately message the friend with a link to the campaign video

  • Be very non-confrontational and gentle

  • Send something along the lines of: 

“I saw your holiday photo and thought it was so cute and so did some more research into the little animal and I found out something so sad! They are actually treated really badly as photo props and are taken from the wild and as a result are now in danger of going extinct. This is the video I watched: www.ticklingistorture.org, it’s really sad but I just thought you might like to know as maybe you should not post the photo but instead tell others about the truth? I also thought it was cute and am so shocked.”

The Little Fireface Project has also been producing wholesome loris memes in an effort to re-contextualise the animal in a healthy way:

The proliferation of abusive videos as entertainment is not unique to slow lorises; they are far from being the only animal threatened by selfie tourism and trafficking. But so many experts and organisations have called on social media platforms to reform their practises now, it’s hard to say sites like Facebook and Instagram bear no responsibility in curbing this particular trend. 

E-commerce sites have been able to take proactive steps in fighting wildlife cybercrime, such as eBay putting a blanket ban on the sale of ivory in 2008, and countries can introduce legislation such as Portugal banning online wild animal trading earlier this year. But social media sites remain reactive in their policy enforcement. (Granted they are grappling with the fact that their platform is being used for something it was not designed for, and of course monitoring accounts always runs a risk of policy infringement.)

As a species we are entranced by animals like the loris. We need to enact change as well as demand it from social media platforms, though, otherwise we will have to wave goodbye to species like them.

Because, despite this relative uptake in awareness, the loris vids are not dead. This August a video went viral of a loris “pole-dancing” in Russia. It’s evidently being kept as a pet, exposed to artificial light, and wearing a nappy.

The fight to stop the spread of “cute” loris content is far from over. 

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