In the end, it took a bloodthirsty cheerleader to do something animal-rights groups have been unable to do for years: get Facebook to remove photos of dead exotic animals.
Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) removed last week several images posted by Kendall Jones, the 19-year-old Texas Tech student who rose to Internet fame -- and infamy -- after photos of the blond hunter posing with various wildlife carcasses went viral. The social network released a statement indicating that the photos violated its community standards, although it would not be specific about which photos, or how many, have been removed. At last check, images of Jones posing with a lion and an elephant, and another of her hugging a dead cheetah, appear to have been zapped from her Facebook page.
Facebook’s community standards do not specifically mention hunting photos, but as Facebook said in a statement, “We remove reported content that promotes poaching of endangered species, the sale of animals for organized fight or content that includes extreme acts of animal abuse.”
That explanation may come as news to animal-welfare groups that have long asked Facebook to ban photos of animals killed on hunts. In 2012, a group of more than 1,500 Facebook users participated in an online protest calling on Facebook to include hunting photos as offensive under its terms of service. Typically, photos that feature legal hunting activities will not be removed, as Facebook is largely concerned with images that promote the illegal poaching of wildlife. But while poaching may be illegal, Jones has maintained that her photos were taken on legal paid-hunting safaris -- which supporters say helps create the infrastructure needed to combat poaching.
A spokesman for Facebook told International Business Times that the site’s policy on endangered species has been in effect for several years, so it’s not a sudden change that led to the removal of Jones’ photos. However, images of exotic African wildlife carcasses continue to proliferate on Facebook pages that don’t belong to a bright-eyed cheerleaders with large numbers of hate followers. Scroll through pages like “The Hunting Report,“ “Under Wild Skies” or “Africa Hunting and Animals” -- or any number of pages belonging to individual hunters -- and you’ll find images featuring the same animals Jones had posed with. To Facebook’s credit, some of the above images were removed from Facebook shortly after IBTimes brought them to its attention -- evidence of the Whac-A-Mole-like process of keeping the world’s largest social network free of content that violates its terms. But for others, that process doesn’t go far enough: More than 323,000 people have signed a petition asking Facebook to remove Jones’ page entirely.
Ironically, most of the images banned from Jones’ page can still be found on a Facebook page dedicated to putting an end to her African hunts. Facebook has said it allows otherwise-banned images to be shared in the context of raising awareness for a cause. Some of the photos can also be found on Jones’ Facebook-owned Instagram page.
Since images of Jones’ African safaris went viral, the hunter has faced a groundswell of vitriol -- including the standard death threats and name-calling -- but some commentators have questioned whether the fervor would be as intense if Jones were a male hunter. Jones, who is hoping to star in her own television show, has rapidly built up her social media reach amid the backlash -- going from 11,000 to more than 472,000 Facebook “likes” in less than a week.