The Online Business of Torture
As insane as it sounds, monkey abuse is hiding in plain sight – and it runs deeper than you could possibly imagine.
CW: The following piece contains descriptions of animal abuse. I will not be linking any videos or channels featuring animal abuse in this article to avoid generating traffic toward them.
At the risk of sounding completely deranged, I’m just going to come out and say it: there is a somewhat extensive online community that relishes in the torture of monkeys. It’s not restricted to a handful of disparate bogeymen, hidden behind the encrypted shadows of the unindexed dark web that good internet citizens dare not tread. Instead, anti-monkey content hides (and thrives) in plain sight on the sites many of us visit on a daily basis.
I initially made this discovery several weeks ago, in the early morning hours before the world had woken up. Despite my best efforts, I could not fall asleep. So, in the sanctuary of my bed and the darkness, I grabbed my phone and started to scroll through Reddit. Generally, I stick to the tamer corners of the site, browsing communities like r/todayilearned or r/wikipedia. Usually, this is a healthier alternative to reading the endless feed of existential woe and memes that Twitter has to offer. But on this particular occasion, an ominous post stuck out on my homepage:
Any hopes of finding a long article to lull me back to a peaceful slumber were immediately dashed. “Another one of those baby monkey torture channels” implies a problem concerning baby monkey torture that goes beyond what one or two stray sickos might be able to produce. Could that really be possible? Aren’t the antics of mammalian infants supposed to be the one thing universally cherished by every internet denizen?
The least cynical among us would certainly be inclined to believe so. After all, there is an entire virtual economy that revolves solely around churning out cuddly content. From cat and canine influencers advertising pet products to monetizing cute clips manufactured to go viral, there are a lot of ways people use animals to make money on the internet. And, almost always, it’s relatively harmless because most viewers don’t care to see animals being harmed.
But in some cases, the business of suffering can be just as profitable as the business of cute. When the subject being recorded is a creature deemed unworthy of affection or admiration, sometimes the demand for content doesn’t disappear – it just twists into a yearning for something far more perverse than a quick serotonin fix. That’s the conclusion that I came to after searching “monkey”1 on Youtube and immediately finding hundreds of disturbing results, anyway.
As a lifelong animal lover, the existence of a rabid monkey-hating community wasn’t just troubling – it genuinely confused me. Who would want to be involved in the production, distribution, or consumption of animal abuse? Why monkeys? Where does this consistent stream of malicious monkey content come from in the first place?
Haunted by these questions, I set out seeking answers. And to my surprise, what I ultimately discovered along the way was far more extensive, complicated, and strange than I could have possibly anticipated.
Thanks for reading Off-Topic! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
First and foremost, a little bit of context is necessary in order to fully understand what exactly is happening on monkey Youtube and beyond.
Not all monkeys are the target of widespread vitriol. In fact, one species of monkey is overwhelmingly the subject of online ire: the crab-eating macaque2.
At a glimpse, there's nothing particularly extraordinary about the crab-eating macaque. Weighing in between 6-20 lbs, covered in tawny-grey fur, and sporting long tails, they look exactly how you’d expect a monkey to look. They live together at the forest’s edge in matrilineal troops. Aside from humans, they are the most bountiful primate species on Earth.
The response that these monkeys consistently elicit online, however, is anything but ordinary. Thousands of macaque videos populate platforms like Youtube and TikTok, and a great deal of them are flooded with comments wishing ill on the animals. Only channels with strict moderation or nonexistent viewership seem to bypass negative remarks from disgusted spectators.
To some, this may not come as a shock. There will always be trolls looking to add their tasteless two cents to just about anything, after all. But it quickly becomes apparent that the frequency with which negative monkey comments occur (not to mention all the likes, hearts, and upvotes such comments accrue) that this is more than the edgy antics of a few rogue trolls. It’s a full-blown hatred, the kind that requires time to fester and mature.
Objectively, there are a few logical reasons that explain why macaques, specifically, are so frequently the targets of some of the worst animal abuse the internet has to offer.
Like many species, progressive habitat loss has increasingly driven these primates into human living spaces. But unlike most animals, many macaques don’t shy away from human contact. In fact, they’ll often steal high-value items from tourists and refuse to relinquish their spoils until they’re offered food in exchange. But these intelligent animals cross the line from annoying nuisance to harmful pests when they start raiding crops from farmers. In countries like Cambodia and Indonesia, where income inequality and lack of rural infrastructure result in extreme poverty, a hungry macaque troop can have a substantial impact on a family’s finances and food supply.
To make matters worse, macaque populations have begun venturing out of their natural range. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has included the crab-eating macaque among the world’s worst invasive species due to the havoc its opportunistic, omnivorous diet can wreak on biodiversity. In countries such as Palau, mass monkey sterilization has been proposed to protect the island nation’s delicate ecosystem. Back in 2012, the Malaysian wildlife department sanctioned the deaths of nearly 100,000 monkeys. Though one study on primate crop-raiding suggests that different locales use vastly different approaches to stave off thieving monkeys, it’s not outside the norm for some farmers to use guns, traps, or dogs to hunt down macaques when nonviolent means of deterrence fall short.
Taking these factors into consideration, it becomes entirely understandable why these monkeys garner so much loathing from the people that share space with them. But the perfectly logical reasons explaining this phenomenon hit a few snags once you begin to ask people in the macaque’s natural range how they actually feel about the creature.
One study from Singapore on the macaque's societal perception suggested that while 68% of residents experienced nuisance problems with macaques, about 77% of people interviewed had neutral or positive attitudes toward the animal3. Nearly all individuals interviewed preferred the idea of using nonviolent measures to control the monkey population. Although Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam traffick tens of thousands of crab-eating macaques per year, most are sold abroad to research facilities4 seeking animal test subjects. This suggests that the majority of criminal actions involving macaques have less to do with personal feelings and more to do with the fact that they’re easy to source and internationally in demand. Protective laws and animal advocacy groups specifically designed to preserve and protect macaques exist across Southeast Asia.
So, if it isn’t locals calling for the persecution of macaques, then who is?
For those hellbent on finding out, the most promising clues lie in language.
When browsing through comments, perhaps the most telling takeaway is that most disparaging comments are written in perfect (or near-perfect) English – despite the fact that almost all of the channels dedicated to monkey content are explicitly based out of Southeast Asian countries. In part, this could have more to do with the fact that English is the most frequently used language online. But frequent and correct usage of English slang terms (for instance, the uniquely American ‘Karen’) further suggests that the primary audience for gruesome monkey videos is a Western one
Also backing up the theory that monkey videos are geared toward Westerners is the fact that most videos sport English titles, despite coming from countries where English is not widely spoken. Again, this may be a strategy to maximize clicks by utilizing the web’s dominant language. But it also offers some insight into who content creators think are tuning in to their videos.
Stranger still are the unique phrases that appear consistently among comments expressing hatred toward macaques. Instead of simply referring to them as monkeys, the subjects of abuse are often called “tree rats”. Needy babies are consistently anthropomorphized into “brats” in need of “discipline”. Content creators are called VOs, or Video Operators. Anyone that reports videos for breaking platform policies or otherwise meddles in monkey-related affairs is a Karen. Time and time again, video titles include unusual terms such as “BILLION TEARS” or “MILLION PITY”.
This shared terminology brings us to a chilling conclusion – these are not the ramblings of isolated actors. Somewhere online, these hyper-specific and outspoken animal abuse advocates convene, communicate, and pick up expressions from one another.
The only way to find out for sure was to dive deeper into the bowels of the dark, depraved beast.
At this point, it’s necessary to describe what sort of things, exactly, are happening to macaques online. The details are difficult to read, but I strongly feel that there’s value in actually laying out the severity of the content that’s able to slip through safeguards meant to curb violent uploads. Furthermore, it’s worth discussing just how easy it is to access horrific animal abuse through mainstream platforms like Youtube.
I can’t blame you if you don’t want to subject yourself to the particulars of monkey torture. If that is the case, I suggest you skip forward to the next segment of the article.
There are actually a few different ways in which macaque abuse manifests. At points, they bleed together. But for the most part, they can be divided into the following categories:
The content people are most likely to stumble upon – and seemingly the most benign uploads of the bunch – are what appear to be documentary videos of wild macaque troops.
One of the first things viewers will notice are the dark themes that dominate this genre of video. Uploads featuring babies starving to death and swallowing their last shallow breaths are more common than you’d think. So too are videos featuring adult monkeys roughly handling their young. The lack of effort it takes to stumble upon channels dedicated solely to monkeys “raping” one another is absolutely astounding.
While these certainly illustrate what a cruel mistress Mother Nature can be, the vast majority of these videos do not feature documentarians directly interacting with animals5. They do, however, profit off of monkey duress and aid in enforcing a narrative that macaques are “bad” animals. Monkey sadists often cite these wildlife videos as concrete proof that macaques are inherently awful beings, deserving of whatever pain comes their way.
Ultimately, it’s incredibly difficult to determine where nature ends and artificial stress begins. As a result, making blanket statements on the intentions and culpability of the people working cameras is difficult in this case. All the same, some of the hyper-violent behavior exhibited quite clearly stems from prior human interaction. A decent number of the macaques most frequently featured being hit, bitten, or starved are ex-pets that lack socialization within their own species.
Speaking of which, the next most common type of monkey video available on Youtube, Facebook, and beyond are the ones that feature baby macaques as pets. The human interference in these types of videos is clear, but it’s important to specify that some portion of people that own pet monkeys are misguided rather than malicious. After all, to many humans, giving a macaque shelter and a regular source of food is a kindness when compared to the small cages on city side alleys that the street vendors selling them as pets frequently utilize.
All that being said, there are clearly some individuals who take advantage of baby monkeys to satiate the internet’s gluttony for all things adorable. The actual welfare of the animals that actually bring in profits is considered collateral damage. Many pet channels use brightly saturated thumbnails of wide-eyed infants to draw in viewers.
Macaques featured on pet channels are frequently forced into doll clothes and forced to walk upright, despite their natural tendency to roam around on four legs. Most wear diapers, which result in bright red rashes on their bottoms. Pets are bathed incessantly, and it’s unclear whether that has more to do with hygiene or the potential views a baby animal in a bubble bath can garner. The stars of these videos are often seen baring what appears to be a smile. Those familiar with primate stress signals will recognize it as a “fear grimace”.
Sometimes, the abuse visibly escalates beyond the inherent stress a wild animal might experience living in captivity. Owners will occasionally strike pets that misbehave. A few will make videos placing monkeys in enclosures with puppies, or being spooked by plastic snakes just to get a reaction. Once these animals grow older and become uncute and unruly they’re usually unceremoniously dumped back into the wild, where they’ll likely die from the elements or at the hands of other macaques6.
As awful as this may already seem to be, monkey content readily available gets significantly more depraved. Some of the most disturbing content comes from staged rescue videos.
The concept behind these videos is pretty simple. Across Youtube, TikTok, and Facebook, there are channels solely dedicated to uploading videos of animals being “saved” from varying degrees of danger. Such videos often garner large viewership (and ad revenue7), likely because the act of rescuing triggers the same sort of feel-good responses that cute content can elicit. The only problem? It’s somewhat rare that wild animals need rescuing, and seeking out animals actively in trouble is a time-consuming endeavor. As a result, people will expedite the process by purposely placing animals in dangerous scenarios.
Macaques are not the only animals that star in faux rescues. As this excellent National Geographic article points out, cats, dogs, and other exotic animals are also frequently featured victims. All the same, monkeys are easily sourced due to their proximity to humans and often appear in some of the most gruesome content this genre has to offer.
Rescues have the potential to be fairly tame. Posts depicting monkeys being freed from cages or “unboxed” are common fare. But content escalates quickly. After all, the more outrageous a clip is, the more potential it has to go viral. There are countless videos featuring monkeys caught in fishing nets in ways that seem impossible for even the most rambunctious specimens. Injuries caused by “dog attack” often suspiciously resemble the deep slashes of a knife more so than any sort of puncture wound. Occasionally, you’ll stumble across a monkey pinned underneath an inexplicable pile of rubble or rocks, waiting for a human to remove obstacles many times their own size.
Every so often, faux rescues will also feature monkeys receiving supposed medical treatment for unspecified ailments. Dozens of uploads feature animals receiving mystery injections for reasons that are never fully explained. There are sometimes tooth and tail amputations (which, conveniently, make them more desirable pets). Some hardly pretend at all to have the animal’s interests in mind. One readily available video features the extraction of a leech purposely placed up a monkey’s nose by the videographer’s “friend”. In conjunction with a pair of tweezers, the doctor in question forces tobacco juice into his patient’s sinuses in a supposed attempt to drive the parasite out.
Sometimes, no effort to provide aid is administered at all. Instead, monkeys dying from automobile-induced internal injuries or accidental electrocution are simply filmed while the life drains from their bodies. Though offering professional veterinary care is often not a viable option for the average rural Southeast Asian videographer, the recordings of animals on asphalt deathbeds feel universally intrusive and wrong.
The worst videos of all, as you might suspect, blatantly violate most popular sites’ terms barring extreme violence. There is no disguising them as anything other than what they are – unadulterated torment. Cruelty is administered in the most bizarre and barbaric ways imaginable. Across hundreds of videos, you can find monkeys being burned alive, or having their limbs separated from their bodies. There are monkey crucifixions and monkey drownings. Hammers, household appliances, and hot chili peppers are used as instruments of torture by anonymous abusers. The luckiest victims are the ones killed quickly.
Unlike the nature, pet, and rescue videos, the worst material is usually removed from mainstream platforms before it can get much traction. However, the less obvious abuse that is allowed to slip through the cracks serves as a conduit that leads sadistic viewers to gorier content. In the comment sections of seemingly benign macaque videos, anonymous users will offer links to the sites and chatrooms that are willing to host the more depraved content. Entire communities of demented monkey-hating degenerates, ever eager to see the objects of their loathing destroyed, are usually little more than a DM away.
And the current epicenter of it all is a reclaimed Russian message board, in the midst of a raging battle against the most unlikely of opponents.
For the most part, 0chan.life is a dead image board. The site is fairly small and simple, and most of it is in Russian. According to post timestamps, it seems that the majority of the board’s original users migrated to a .ru domain sometime in 2019. But one channel still continues to churn out threads – /pity/, ironically titled “Monkey Love”.
If you have a shred of empathy and are stupid enough to subject yourself to this particularly dark corner of the web, you’ll likely feel compelled to immediately turn back to whatever safer site you were surfing beforehand. The pages of this forum exude a nefarious aura. Regulars have an insatiable thirst for all things cruel and unusual, and no attempts are made to mask their bloodlust. Threads are packed with still images of mutilated animals. In addition, links are provided to animal snuff films hosted on sites that allow anonymous file uploads (i.e. anonfiles.com) and free speech social platforms (i.e. Parler, Minds). Additional content is shared on invite-only Telegram groups and Discord servers that trusted board members organize amongst themselves.
But the most shocking part of this cesspool isn’t the horrendous imagery. It’s the discussion.
As you read, you’ll often encounter users reminiscing over the suffering of monkeys past, referring to them by the names given to them by their captors/executioners. Monkey Ji’s tendency to rock back and forth while huddled and holding her head is openly mocked. Monkey Mundo is fondly remembered for his face, which one commenter claims “looks like it formed around a scream”. The most dedicated sadists collect videos and offer to share their findings with one another. Chats aren’t solely focused on the practice’s past, though – they’re also actively used to plan the next fix.
You read that correctly. There are a few hundred monkey torture fans so dedicated to the continuation of abuse that they use a borderline defunct Russian image board as a communal space to coordinate the production of new content.
From what I can tell as an observant outsider, the operation goes as follows:
A middle man (someone who A) is in contact with a VO (video operator) with access to monkeys and B) is familiar with the community seeking monkey content) introduces themself, offers their services, and will provide a means of payment such as a Bitcoin wallet address.
Users will make monetary contributions and sometimes send specific requests for future video content. Occasionally, the community will spitball ideas and democratically vote on which one the majority would most like to see acted out.
After collecting sufficient funds, the middleman will use the money raised to pay a willing VO to carry out torture instructions on a monkey.
VO will film and carry out the assignment, then send content back to the middleman after receiving payment.
The middle man then leaks content created by the VO back to the monkey sadists that funded the production (or, if it’s a particularly generous person, to the internet at large).
Not all of this prep work is publically available. Some parties make plans in private chats and servers, where prying Karens that don’t approve are less likely to interfere. Luckily, the activities of an early 2022 0chan middleman using the pseudonym Mr. Ape confirmed the existence of this business model to those outside of the innermost animal abuse circles.
According to an anonymous Reddit user that supposedly infiltrated Mr. Ape’s private Telegram group, at least five videos involving the torture and death of adolescent monkeys were successfully crowdfunded over the course of a few weeks. After all, what could possibly stop them? Though some stray troublesome Karens have begun making efforts to report monkey-related abuse on platforms like Youtube, 0chan and the Telegram groups attached to it are so obscure that very few would even know (or care) to try intervening.
Just one improbable force has ever made a concerted, long-term effort in an attempt to stifle 0chan’s abuse – a subset of users originating from Kiwi Farms.
For hosee familiar with the name Kiwi Farms, this is likely to come as a surprise. At its core, the site is a forum strictly centered around making fun of ‘lolcows’ (a slang term for anyone capable of being "milked for laughs"). Often targeting transgender and neurodivergent individuals specifically, Kiwi Farms became infamous for doxxing victims. Over the years, bullying stemming from the site has been connected to at least three suicides.
In short, Kiwi Farms is a problematic place filled with people with very few morals concerning online conduct. But even Kiwi Farms users, callous as many of them may be, took issue with 0chan. So, albeit in some of the least ethical ways possible, some members began to take action.
The most visible impact of Kiwi Farms vigilantes? 0chan is frequently flooded with shock pornography. As juvenile as the technique may be, it simultaneously buries violent monkey content underneath a mountain of erect penises and annoys moderators forced to battle an incessant stream of spam. But the Farms have also made more concrete efforts to stop the spread of the worst torture content. On multiple occasions, Farms users have made their way onto the goriest Telegram groups and subsequently reported illegal activities to the service, in turn booting the most egregious users and breaking up lines of communication. In what could be considered their best or worst attack of all, they doxxed Mr. Ape, which in turn caused him to cease his activities and disappear off of 0chan without a trace.
But the sins of Kiwi Farms have caught up with them in the past few weeks. After allegedly sending a SWAT team to US congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s home as a prank, the site began receiving widespread mainstream backlash. Twitch streamer and political activist Clara Sorrenti began a Twitter campaign to shut down the Farms, which successfully culminated in network provider Cloudflare dropping the site. As of the publication of this article, Kiwi Farms is essentially defunct.
And with the appeal of a malignant cancer, it’s difficult to argue that its eradication hasn’t made the internet a better place8. But with their removal, so too goes the semblance of any organized force attempting to end this hyperspecific animal abuse representative of the worst humanity has to offer.
Perhaps that makes now a better time than ever to consider what we can do to fight against content so horrific that many of us would rather believe it doesn’t exist at all.
As of March 7th, 2022, the crab-eating macaque has been officially declared an endangered species. And with little effort being made to stop the exploitation of these primates, a determined group of online enemies may very well play an influential role in the utter destruction of an entire species.
If you’re looking for an ending to this piece that’s neat and logical, I’m afraid I don’t have one. That’s because the heinous acts macaques are subjected to cannot be explained by logic. Some sockpuppet accounts hypothesize that their vitriol stems from the macaque’s position on the outer edges of the uncanny valley. They are almost human, but not quite. It’s impossible to miss in the structure of their little hands, the emotion in their curious eyes. If the anthropomorphizing comments denouncing babies as brats tell us anything, it’s that we might just hate these animals because they remind us a little too much of ourselves.
I don’t know that any one person has all of the solutions concerning how people can put an end to online animal abuse, especially when the operations driving it involve multiple people spread across different countries. Nor do I have a clue concerning how the worst offenders should be brought to justice. This whole journey has made me question how many pitiless people exist in the world, suddenly enabled to create their wildest fantasies thanks to widespread internet use and the desperation of people thousands of miles away.
There is always the standby of flagging abuse and avoiding abusive content altogether. But, as most of us are likely aware, this is only a temporary solution. One 0chan poster recently compared the community to the hydra of Greek mythology – a creature capable of being harmed, but difficult to be killed because of its tendency to regenerate heads previously lobbed off. The comment suggested that naysayers should accept that the evil and ugliness of the site will always exist, no matter how many setbacks it may take.
Obviously, this user did not pay very close attention to the myth, as Hercules does eventually vanquish the Hydra with the help of his nephew. But, just like the hydra, this is not a problem that can be vanquished by one imperfect force, be it me relaying this story or some anonymous basement dwellers advertising Mr. Ape’s personal information.
As unpleasant as the business of pain and torture may be, the first step to conquering it is acknowledgment. And for the time being, I’m afraid that’s all I have to offer.
I conducted this search using an incognito tab in an attempt to prevent my results from being influenced by my own biases and prior search queries.
Crab-eating macaques are also sometimes referred to as long-tailed macaques - the names are used interchangeably throughout sources cited throughout this article
It is important to bear in mind that the economic situation for the average Singaporean, is vastly different from, say, the average Indonesian or Cambodian. Public opinion on macaques may very well be less positive in regions where the primates more directly impact the livelihoods of citizens.
A fair number of macaques also end up spending their life at breeding farms, but the farms largely exist to supply universities and research facilities with test subjects
(While the cameras are rolling, anyway.)
Of course, the people that run pet channels rarely admit that they’ve disposed of their “beloved” pets so callously. Those that provide any explanation as to why the star of their channel has suddenly disappeared will often claim that the animal has been rehomed or taken to a wildlife sanctuary.
Intuit recently reported that a monetized Youtube video can earn between $2,000-3,000 USD per million views – significant earnings in countries like Laos, Cambodia, and Indonesia, where the lowest-paid workers can earn as little as $200 USD per month.
The persecution of KiwiFarms does bring up some valid concerns about the reach of internet censorship, as the site does not promote anything specifically illegal. However, there’s no denying that the culture and practices of the site itself, at the very least, rub many people the wrong way.