How Countryside Alliance took on might of Facebook and won over online extremists and vigilantes - Jack Knott

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THE social media giant Facebook has deleted a post by a group of animal rights extremists who were publicising personal details of game farms around the UK, following direct pressure from the Countryside Alliance.

In doing so, the company has sent out a clear message that it has a zero-tolerance approach to online bullying and harassment. This is an extremely positive message in an age where criminals are taking full advantage of the many dark sides of the internet.

Mass action by the Countryside Alliance compelled Facebook to remove damaging posts.

Mass action by the Countryside Alliance compelled Facebook to remove damaging posts.

It first became clear that an underground attack on the shooting industry was occurring when game farms in Wiltshire and Cornwall were targeted by animal rights extremists. In total, thousands of pounds of damage was caused, having significant impacts on the businesses. The criminals lauded and promoted their despicable attacks on several social media platforms using fake accounts, second-hand information and friendly media sources.

We want to make it clear that releasing game birds in such a high density is a welfare risk, causes environmental damage and provides an easy meal for predators. The extremists have not “liberated” these birds but instead have significantly shortened their lives and, in short, seriously affected rural businesses.

It was after these attacks that we became aware of a Facebook post that had been shared several times leaking the personal details and addresses of dozens of game farms. The post directed its followers to pay a “visit” to more game farms, several of which are based in Yorkshire, in a blatant example of both harassment and incitement.

Following a fast reaction from our digital team, we were able to encourage our supporters through a mass lobby to report the post, under the subsection of harassment, directly to the social media giant. Thankfully the response to our call to action was immense which meant that Facebook reacted within a matter of hours to ensure this post, and everywhere it had been shared, was removed.

Facebook would never have reacted so quickly if it were not for all the hundreds of people that reported the post. For that we are extremely grateful.

With such active support, the Countryside Alliance is in a unique position to act quickly and effectively on online bullying and harassment. This is a topic that our organisation has been working on for several years. Whilst we are not against robust debate, when it turns to death threats, posting private details online and leaving false reviews for businesses we believe a line is crossed and police action is necessary.

Some 62 per cent of respondents to a Countryside Alliance survey last year said they had experienced online bullying or harassment for supporting country sports. No one should have to deal with this sort of behaviour, and we are asking that all examples of online criminality are reported. Rural businesses and livelihoods have enough challenges to contend with without having to deal with intimidation and potential attacks from extremists.

Due to the shocking survey results, we decided to launch an online portal where those who have been a victim of online abuse can submit their evidence to help support our work on the issue. The information we receive is helping us to put pressure on the Government and social media platforms to do more to protect people on social media.

Sadly, this is not the first-time extremists have purposefully targeted rural businesses, as a similar map with the private details of dairy farms was published earlier this year. The vigilante group’s aim was to disrupt the dairy industry through terrorising farmers and disrupting farming activities. Through the dark side of the internet, they were able to promote their crimes anonymously and boost their message.

Terrorising and organised criminality are not confined to urban areas. It is clearly happening in our countryside, in places and areas where police funding has seen the hardest cuts, and people are left feeling vulnerable by the lack of support. All four Yorkshire police forces have seen funding cuts of up to 30 per cent since the Government’s cuts began. Rural crimes are still serious crimes and they require the necessary resources to deal with them effectively and quickly.

Whilst the map has now been removed from Facebook and is no longer being shared, our work on this issue has yet to end as private details are still being broadcast publicly on privately hosted websites. The Alliance’s work now turns to seeing this map completely deleted from the internet, so private details are no longer being publicised.

Our attention also turns to the police, MPs and police and crime commissioners to ensure they understand the illegal activity of the animal rights lobby and to ensure that they are equipped with information and resources to react accordingly to the risk.

Jack Knott is campaigns manager at the Countryside Alliance.