Caught in the net: Cyber-enabled wildlife crime

An exploration of what Apps like TikTok and WhatsApp have to do with badger crime and how virtual research can help badgers in real life.

Badger persecution rose substantially during regional and countrywide lockdowns throughout 2020-2021. Recent research revealed a 36% surge in badger crime in 2020, a rise attributed to the increased privacy afforded to rural landscapes making crime less visible as most of the public stayed at home. Indeed, where much of the world experienced what environmental scientists dubbed the “Anthropause” – the noticeable increase in wildlife encounters as animals ventured into towns and cities devoid of human disturbance – in comparison, badgers in hidden rural settings fell victim to heightened rates of persecution.

Yet it wasn’t only the relative quiet of the countryside that enabled badger persecution to boom; the trend in online activity also helped fuel the organised nature of what was already a priority wildlife crime. As people were increasingly forced to isolate at home, and with schools, colleges, and workplaces closed, the internet became a playground for social connectivity.

Caught in the net: cyber-enabled wildlife crime

Has social media use really increased, though?

According to new research by Ofcom, UK adults now spend on average one-quarter of their waking day online, a record high. In its latest Online Nation 2021 Report, Ofcom reported social media use grew rapidly throughout 2019-2020 as people sought ways to connect safely in the absence of in-person social opportunities.

Video streaming platforms such as TikTok became most popular amongst younger audiences, with over half of 16 to 24-year old’s (54%) having a TikTok account during that time. However, engagement with TikTok is expected to be much higher as users can view content without registering with an account. In addition, WhatsApp steadily became the most popular messaging service, with 75% of over-15s in Britain using WhatsApp at least monthly. And in 2020 alone, WhatsApp’s overall UK adult reach was 30.4million people!

What do Apps like WhatsApp and TikTok have to do with badger crime?

To answer this, we first need to look at the context in which wildlife crime is cyber-enabled. Cyber-enabled crime is where the internet is used by criminals to organise illegal activities. The illicit sale of wildlife products such as ivory and the illegal import and sale of wild animals for the exotic pet trade have long been