For many travellers, Instagram is the go-to way to share trips with family and friends. But the proliferation of all those perfect travel posts has come with an increase in the number of images featuring animals – some of which may not show the behind-the-scenes reality of potentially harmful wildlife tourism practices.
To combat this, Instagram has created a new feature to warn its users about protecting wildlife. When users search for a hashtag that might be associated with harmful behaviour towards animals or the environment, they will see a content advisory. That means if you search for a term like #slothselfie or #carvedivory, you will find a notice stating: “Animal abuse and the sale of endangered animals or their parts are not allowed on Instagram. You are searching or a hashtag that may be associated with posts that encourage harmful behaviour to animals or the environment”. Users can also read more information about why the warning has come up, where they are asked to “consider whether an animal has been smuggled, poached or abused for the sake of tourism” before taking photos in the first place.
The company said in a blog post that they are encouraging people to be thoughtful about how they interact with the environment and animals to help avoid exploitation, and to report photos and videos that might violate their community guidelines. Instagram also warns about damaging the environment, noting that “walking on wildflowers, moving a nest or carving initials—is never worth a few likes.”
This move follows calls from organisations like World Animal Protection, which recently asked for travellers to commit to a “Wildlife Selfie Code” to avoid contributing to animal exploitation. This means pledging not to take a selfie if an animal is being held, hugged or restrained, if it is being baited with food, or if it could harm a person. The animal charity found that wildlife selfies on social media have increased by 292% since 2014. The creation of the pledge was spurred by incidents in places like Brazil and Peru, where they say their investigators found that animals were being taken and used irresponsibly by tour operators for photo ops.