At a time when its seat as top U.S. streaming service has never been more precarious, the fact that Netflix would decide now to push out a docuseries about a creep who tortures and murders kittens among other horrifying acts is . . . a choice. But one I can at least wrap my head around. What I fail to understand, however, is why—until recently—subscribers were able to stumble upon that kind of gruesome content without warning.
Several Netflix subscribers posted on Twitter and Reddit this week about how they were traumatized after the trailer for Don’t Fuck With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer began playing automatically while they were navigating the service’s menus (As of late Thursday, Netflix appears to have addressed the issue and removed autoplay for this preview specifically, as others remain unaffected, but we’re still waiting for confirmation).
As part of Netflix’s UI, whenever you linger on the homepage or hover over a title for longer than a second, a preview starts playing sans any user input. But while the titles themselves may contain content warnings for sensitive material—Don’t Fuck With Cats, for example, has one denoting that it’s rated mature for disturbing images and animal harm—Netflix includes no such warnings on trailers.
So you can imagine how very-not-happy subscribers were when a trailer that starts off seeming to be about internet culture and cat videos quickly becomes something much, much more disturbing. The three-part docuseries released earlier this week chronicles how a group of cat-loving internet sleuthers helped launch a manhunt for Canadian murderer Luka Rocco Magnotta after finding his gruesome videos of animal abuse involving kittens. I’m too squeamish to watch it myself, but from what I’ve heard the series doesn’t skimp on the gory details. Even Netflix described it as “very tough to watch at times” in a recent tweet. The expletive-laced name comes from a proverbial tenet of the internet, one the amateur investigators interviewed for the series call a sort of online “rule zero”: Don’t fuck with cats.
While the series’ trailer (serious content warning, obviously) thankfully stops short of showing anything explicit, it still contains several clips from Magnotta’s videos of him handling the kittens as well as audio in which you can hear several distressed mews as he commits these horrors. Screenshots of social media posts that flash by during the preview also reveal additional gory details that made this reporter take a moment to hug her cat, Cheeto, very, very close.
“It pretty much fucked me up,” Jalopnik writer Alanis King told Gizmodo after accidentally witnessing the trailer on Netflix’s homepage. “I’m livid about this...[it] ruined my entire night.”
Several other subscribers began posting warnings about the trailer for Don’t Fuck With Cats on social media after their own surprise run-ins. Many voiced their frustration that Netflix currently has no way to disable auto-play on trailers without the help of a plug-in like Netflix Classic or Netflix Tweaked, which don’t work for all the platforms on which Netflix is available. (Turning off Post-Play, a Netflix feature that entices binge-watching by auto-queuing the next episode in a series, doesn’t affect previews).
It’s unclear exactly how many people were distressed after unintentionally viewing the trailer. A Reddit user who began a livechat with Netflix support staff Thursday to complain about the issue shared a screenshot of their conversation with Gizmodo via email; in it, a Netflix spokesperson says the company “already [has] a number of the same feedback” without going into further details.
When the Reddit user asked how they could avoid being unnecessarily traumatized by their Netflix account in the future, the spokesperson suggested they should give Don’t Fuck With Cats a thumbs down to bump it off Netflix’s list of recommendations. Which isn’t really a solution but it’s better than nothing, I suppose.
While Netflix did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for inquiry, as I mentioned earlier it appears the online uproar got through somehow since the preview for Don’t Fuck With Cats no longer autoplays. Or at least, I couldn’t get the thing to do so even after trying it on multiple devices under several accounts. It seems the only way to watch it at this point is by actively clicking to its trailer page. Now the Netflix homepage features an ad for a family-friendly Christmas movie instead, much more suitable content for the holiday season in which I’m sure absolutely zero kitties were hurt.