It started as an extreme case of cyberbullying ? Snapchat photos sent in the middle of the night to a Duncan teen showing her cat being shaved and drugged.

Gigi was eventually reunited with her owners and was taken to a veterinarian in Duncan where she tested positive for the party drug MDMA.

Three people have now been charged with animal cruelty: 20-year-old Joshua Lemire, as well as two youth ? a 16-year-old girl and 17-year-old boy who can’t be identified.

The story has created a massive backlash online with many identifying the teens alleged to be involved, while there are countless other comments threatening violence and even death.

READ MORE: Two teenagers charged after cat drugged, shaved in Duncan

UVic Psychology Professor Bonnie Leadbeater says that type of mob mentality is increasingly common on social media, especially when it comes to stories about animal abuse.

“We increasingly feel morally justified to punish people or to shame people and we’re less willing to let justice take its course,” said Leadbeater.

But Victoria lawyer Michael Mulligan says this is much more than just shaming, it is criminal.

“If you post on Facebook a threat to kill or harm somebody that is itself a criminal offence even if you don’t carry out the threat,” said Mulligan.

So is identifying the teenagers.

“So the Youth Criminal Justice Act makes it an offence, punishable by up to two years in prison, for identifying a young person who is being dealt with pursuant to the Youth Criminal Justice Act,” he said.

The reason is when kids are linked to a crime, the allegations can follow them around for the rest of their lives.

“What does it mean when you go to apply for a job, what does it mean when you try to go back to school, in what way now have we already created a punishment and guilt in youth who may have made a mistake,” said Leadbeater.

While many are angered that an innocent young cat was harmed, police are cautioning that some lashing out online could face consequences themselves.

April Lawrence