An animal charity says it has been the victim of ’fake news’ circulating on social media sites such as Facebook.
The Manx Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been slated over its dog-handling policies in a vicious campaign that contained many inaccuracies.
The furore was sparked when the charity put one dog to sleep.
MSPCA general manager Juana Warburton said: ’A committee of professionals, including a vet and clinical animal behaviourist, made the decision that the dog would never be safe and keeping him in the MSPCA for the rest of its life would be extremely detrimental to his welfare.
’We put to sleep only an average of one dog per year. But there seems to be a group of people with set opinions about the MSPCA.
’They were saying things like we weren’t prepared to spend money on our animals, or that they could only spend a limited time with us. Both of these statements couldn’t be further from the truth.
’Every time there is a false fact posted and you respond you create further furore.
’People do have to check their facts and not just jump on the bandwagon.
’On a small island it doesn’t take much to ruin a reputation.’
She added: ’On social media it is tit-for-tat. People got so animated and called MSPCA staff "murderers and butchers". One member of staff received an extremely threatening text from a fictitious Facebook account, and this is now a police matter.
’Far more people answered back with messages of support, but the young people working for the MSPCA can get very upset when they read the falsehoods.
’In the UK some charities can run sanctuaries where a troubled dog that gets on with other dogs can be kept for the rest of his life.
’They have special accommodation. It’s not a bad life, they tend to live in packs, but the dogs we sadly have to put to sleep are extremely aggressive towards other dogs and so this scenario is not an option.
’There’s no provision we just have pens and kennels.
’We have rehomed a dog we have had with us for four years recently and the reason it worked was because the new owners spent months coming to visit the dog. He went on sleepovers at their home. It was a really gradual process.’
Juana says that she does not know what the answer is to stop fake news spreading.
’Perhaps the printed media is a more trusted medium as the journalists tend to be known,’ she said.
’The problem of difficult or dangerous dogs is an issue that won’t go away, just as social media will become a bigger and bigger medium.
’The agencies do work well together here. There is a good relationship between the police and the MSPCA and it links well to the judicial system.
’And because the police dog unit interacts with the every day police there is a lot of understanding of dog behaviour.
’There are more problems when dogs are imported to the island and the owners don’t know their history, and more and more dogs are coming to the Isle of Man in this way. A proportion end up at the MSPCA, because we never turn a dog away and very occasionally we, and the experts we employ, simply can’t reform the dog’s behaviour so that it can be rehomed.’
Fake news is something that has been in the headlines all over the world recently.
Facebook and other social media give everyone the chance to have their say on any topic and even create their own news.
But this can often lead to untrue stories spiralling out of control and going viral on the web.
In the UK MPs are launching a parliamentary inquiry into the ’growing phenomenon of fake news’.
One untrue online story saying the Queen was threatening to abdicate should Britain leave the European Union was shared on Facebook more than 23,000 times.