Lost dogs are at risk of being given away because Facebook is labelling posts searching for their owners as spam, the UK's largest lost and found dog service has warned.
DogLost UK has 120,000 registered members, who rely on 40 regional Facebook groups to promote the whereabouts of missing dogs by sharing pictures and information.
However, in the past few months the group's voluntary coordinators claim to have noticed a significant increase in the number of posts and personal accounts being listed as spam, and subsequently removed or locked.
DogLost members are particularly concerned about this because of the ‘seven day rule’, which means that if a lost cat or dog at a pound is not claimed by its owner within a week it legally becomes the property of the kennels and can be rehomed or even put down.
Nik Oakley, DogLost UK’s Communications Advisor, said: “Any action by Facebook which restricts the circulation of posts of someone’s lost dog reduces and hugely jeopardizes the likelihood of a dog being reunited with its owner.
“A big problem we have experienced when Facebook have interfered with our volunteer’s accounts is that they lose all the posts of lost dogs they have shared. They all disappear. People then assume the dog has been found. Now that is seriously detrimental to getting a dog back to the owner.”
Any action by Facebook which restricts the circulation of posts of someone’s lost dog hugely jeopardizes the likelihood of a dog being reunited with its owner.
Nik Oakley, DogLost UK
She added: “Facebook clearly cannot differentiate between a harmless community post trying to reunite lost dogs with their owners, and a spam post trying to sell cheap sunglasses.”
Christine Mather, a DogLost volunteer whose account was allegedly suspended on three separate occasions after her activity was flagged as spam, said the impact on reuniting dogs with their owners is "awful".
“The impact it had on the lost and found effort was awful. I misplaced so many contacts who help find missing dogs. It was especially bad for the lost dogs I was currently dealing with, as all the posts just immediately vanished,” she said.
Ms Mather, who said she has now set up a separate account in her maiden name in order to continue sharing posts about lost dogs, said that Facebook is now the main tool used by the lost and found community.
She added: “I get constant warnings that my account is sharing spam, when really it is just a lost and found post being shared on 20 or 30 local search and rescue groups.”
A Facebook spokesperson said: “If an account excessively posts the same content to a number of different Groups, it may be reported for spam. If this continues, the account may be temporarily prevented from posting content in Groups.
"People want authentic connections on Facebook, which is why these rules and systems are in place to prevent spam. We apologise to LostDogs UK for any inconvenience caused, and would like to work with the charity to help them continue to use Facebook to raise awareness of lost dogs.”
Facebook told The Sunday Telegraph that one of the accounts flagged to them by this newspaper has been temporarily prevented from posting content in Groups due to it being labelled as spam. However, they could not find blocks on other accounts associated with the group and said they are still live.
Facebook advised that DogLost share content on their official Page and to ask their followers to re-share content themselves to help spread the message and support their work.