As of this week, Instagram has announced that it is now deploying a pop-up message whenever a user clicks on or searches for hashtags such as #slothselfie or #exoticanimalforsale. Applicable hashtags that trigger the warnings are in the hundreds and include languages other than English.
Animal abuse is not allowed on Instagram
Photos of people hugging tiger cubs, or posing with sloths, for example, will trigger a notification that reads, “Protect Wildlife on Instagram — Animal abuse and the sale of endangered animals or their parts is not allowed on Instagram. You are searching for a hashtag that may be associated with posts that encourage harmful behavior to animals or the environment.”
The move is part of Instagram’s campaign to increase awareness about wildlife exploitation, and about the story that is often behind this trend of taking selfies with cute and unusual animals. It follows investigations by National Geographic and World Animal Protection into the wildlife tourism industry in the Amazon. The investigations found that animals were being caught illegally from rain forests, kept in cages, then taken out for tourists to take photos with.
Cassandra Koenen, who helped Instagram with the list of hashtags on behalf of World Animal Protection, told National Geographic that she hopes the warnings will make people stop and think. “If someone’s behavior is interrupted, hopefully they’ll think, ‘Maybe there’s something more here, or maybe I shouldn’t just automatically like something or forward something or repost something if Instagram is saying to me there’s a problem with this photo.’”
Instagram is deliberately not revealing the list of hashtags, as it doesn’t want people to find ways to get around them. It’s worth noting that the social media site also has popup warnings for hashtags related to suicide, self-harm and eating disorders.
People kill exotic animals for selfies
According to World Animal Protection, the rate of wildlife selfies on social media has grown by 292 percent over just the last three years. The charity found that over 40 percent of photos taken are “bad” wildlife selfies that feature someone holding an animal or interacting with it in an inappropriate way.
Cruelty behind the scenes included sloths that were captured from the wild, tied up and dying within six months, birds with abscesses, wounded anacondas, a giant anteater beaten by its owner and more. Other animals that are popular for selfies, like lion cubs, are speed-bred in captivity then weaned from their mothers too early.
Earlier this year, tourists in Argentina removed a baby dolphin from the ocean and took selfies with it, ultimately letting it die.
Otra vez mataron a un delfín en San Bernardo. Sacaron al animal del mar para sacarse fotos. pic.twitter.com/4qzYnWvKiH
— C5N (@C5N) January 23, 2017
There have been a number of incidents where wildlife has directly suffered for selfies — including peacocks dying in a zoo in China after rough handling from visitors — and people also using animals for Youtube views.
Do you think Instagram’s approach is the best way to handle this phenomenon?
— Tamara Pearson