Facebook frenzy

Dal responds to false online allegations of animal cruelty

- August 22, 2007

Facebook removes pages deemed defamatory and fraudulent.  (Abriel photo)

Facebook has removed a group from its service that falsely accused Dalhousie University of killing dogs and puppies in its research.

On Monday, Dalhousie asked Facebook to shut down the group on the basis that it violated Facebook's terms of service which forbid the transmission of defamatory and fraudulent information. The group, called "Stop Dogs and Puppies from being murdered at Dalhousie University," claimed dogs and puppies are being used for scientific and medical research at Dalhousie.

In fact, Dalhousie does not use dogs in any university research.*1  Moreover, the photo used by the group was not taken at Dalhousie University.

'The tipping point, from our perspective, was when the group's creator removed the discussion wall," said Jim Vibert, Assistant Vice-President of Communications and Marketing. "Originally, there was energetic discussion taking place in the group, with several Dalhousie students questioning the accusations. Given the open discussion, we had no problem with the group continuing at that point.

"But when the group's creator took down the discussion wall after people were criticizing the inaccuracies, the content that remained was just flat-out wrong, and that's something that our university simply could not tolerate."

Facebook is Canada's most popular website, a social networking sensation that makes it easy to spread the word about an event or cause. Members of a Facebook group sign up to show their support for a common interest and can post comments, although the creator of this group shut down discussion after "too many complaints from people." The group was created in late July but caught fire last week, gaining more than 15,000 new members. The vast majority of the members appeared to be high school students.

Dalhousie has one of the most stringent systems for monitoring animal welfare in the country. The University Committee on Laboratory Animals (UCLA), which consists of Dalhousie scientists, veterinarians and external community members, approves all proposed projects involving animals in conjunction with guidelines laid out by the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC). These guidelines are followed by all Canadian universities. Dalhousie facilities are monitored by the CCAC in scheduled and unscheduled visits to ensure that optimal standards for the humane care and treatment of animals are maintained.

"Dalhousie University has always closely followed the guidelines established by the Canadian Council on Animal Care," said University Veterinarian Sylvia Craig. "The ethical and humane treatment of any animals in our care is of the utmost priority."

Carl Breckenridge, Vice-President, Research, emphasized that Dalhousie supports efforts to reduce the use of animals in research, but recognizes that responsible animal research plays a vital role in developing treatments for global ailments such as cancer, AIDS, and Multiple Sclerosis. ÒAny animal research undertaken at Dalhousie is conducted with rigorous attention to high ethical standards and humane care of the animals," he said.

For more information on the University Committee on Laboratory Animals, visit: animalethics.dal.ca

Correction: Since false accusations about Dalhousie research started making their way around Facebook, university staff have been looking through records to ensure the greatest clarity in information. While there are currently no dogs being housed or used in research at Dalhousie, pinpointing the precise time frame for when dogs may have been a part of medical or scientific investigations is challenging. In particular, the length of time between initiating a research program and publishing an academic paper can be years. This makes it difficult to quantify the exact date when the research was conducted.

When the story first broke, the figure Dalhousie was using as the last instance of research involving dogs was roughly a decade ago. Information has since come to light that suggests a date roughly six to eight years ago. Again, since that time, there have been no dogs housed or used for research at Dal.


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