Tiny monkeys in baby clothes or with diapers, in a bubble bath or with make-up on their faces: videos of macaques depicted as human children are causing a lot of likes on social networks. For the helpless animals, the psychological and physical damage they suffer is often enormous. The torture goes as far as the deliberately induced death of the animals – all in front of the camera and to the amusement of numerous users, according to a report by the Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition (SMACC). The association includes 20 animal welfare organizations that want to draw attention to the problem of online animal cruelty.

For the report "The suffering of macaques for social media content", SMACC employees examined around 2021 photos and videos on social networks between September 2023 and March 1250, mainly on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. At no point in the data collection was the supply of new content exhausted. It is therefore likely that the results represent only a small part of the total content available.

The animal rights activists divided the abuses into a total of 37 categories, ranging from subtle, possibly unintentional, to deliberate and obvious cruelty. They documented more than 2800 cases of obvious abuse. So, on average, they assigned more than two categories of abuse to each piece of content.

Physical abuse and torture

Most often, they found deliberate psychological and physical abuse, including torture, it is said. Many macaques were apparently separated from their mothers at the age of a few days and sold as pets. Some were beaten, others were put in clothes that were far too tight and forcibly prevented from freeing themselves from it, it is said. Food deprivation was also part of the range of abuse. Particularly shocking: In dozens of cases, baby macaques were apparently under the influence of drugs, were sexually abused or – sometimes slowly and painfully – killed, it continues.

"Anyone who feels connected to animals can only be shocked when looking at these videos and photos of macaques in human care – all the more so since they are among the most popular animal content on social networks," said Wiebke Plasse of the World Animal Welfare Society, which is the only German organization to belong to the association. Both the networks and the legislators urgently need to put an end to this animal suffering, she demanded.

Behaviors misinterpreted

Some viewers mistakenly interpreted the primates' behaviors, expressions and gestures as pleasure, happiness or joy, the report said. The supposed smile is often a grimace with which the animals express their fear. In one video, for example, a man washes a baby macaque while the monkey sucks incessantly on his own fingers – according to the report, a coping behavior. In some cases, the users also point out the problem of representations under the videos.

Experts agree that keeping primates as pets is inherently cruel and poses a variety of problems. Like other wild animals, macaques always retain their natural instincts and needs and cannot develop in a species-appropriate manner in human households.

Northern hog-tailed macaques were the most commonly seen in the videos, followed by long-tailed macaques and snub-tailed macaques. The species are classified as "endangered" to "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Macaques are often kept as pets, especially in Asia, but also in the rest of the world, although this is illegal almost everywhere. Their popularity as social media content motivates more people to get macaque babies and use them to create more content, the animal rights activists warned.