A fifth of schoolchildren in the North East have witnessed animal cruelty and neglect on social media, according to data from the RSPCA.
Young children are being exposed to horrific incidents of animal suffering online in ways not experienced by previous generations.
In addition, the animal welfare charity has reported that it sees nearly 5,000 incidents of cruelty and neglect on social media reported to it each year. More than 300 of these are in the North East alone.
In a bid to tackle these incidents, the RSPCA is launching Generation Kind - an educational prevention programme for children. It is also calling for animal welfare to be taught in all schools.
Chief Executive Chris Sherwood said: “The number of children seeing animal abuse online is shocking - the current generation of children are witnessing horrifying animal cruelty and neglect through channels which simply didn’t exist for previous generations.
“The risk for children growing up in the 21st century is that frequent and casual exposure to animal abuse will desensitise them and may even make it seem acceptable. Animals need us now more than ever and we want to grow a new generation of young people who care, who are informed and who want to do their best for animals.
“This is why we are launching Generation Kind - an ambitious education programme targeting school children, children in care, young offenders or those at risk of offending and other disadvantaged young people. Central to this is a new campaign to get animal welfare taught in all schools.”
Teaching animal welfare would ensure children develop key life skills, including compassion and empathy, as well as respect for animals and a basic understanding of how to care for them.
Polling carried out by Beautiful Insights for the RSPCA revealed that 20.3% of young people aged between 10 and 18 in the North East have seen animal cruelty on social media sites.
A further 5.1% in the region have witnessed it first-hand.
In the first half of 2018, there were 202 incidents viewed on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube reported to the RSPCA in the North East.
Fifty-nine of these incidents were in Tyne and Wear, while 62 were in Durham. Fourteen took place in Northumberland, and the rest were in North Yorkshire.
This compares to 399 total incidents for the region in 2017, and 352 in 2016.
Generation Kind is made up of nine projects, which include animal action days to help children develop positive relationships with animals, teacher training and supporting the rehabilitation of young people who have harmed animals.
Mr Sherwood added: “This is the most important campaign we have ever undertaken. We are fighting animal abuse and neglect every day but we can only do so much.
“If we can foster empathy and responsibility towards animals in the consumers, politicians and decision makers of tomorrow, we can create a society which is truly kinder to animals.”