Instagram Now Warns Users About Animals Abused for Selfies

You’ve probablyheard some of the selfie horror stories: A stranded baby dolphin killed by beachgoers holding it up for photo opportunities. Men in Florida kidnapping endangered deer for the same purpose. A Colorado recreational area having to close in order to protect bears from aggressive selfie-taking tourists.

Within just the past three years, selfies taken with wildlife have grown an astonishing 292 percent, according to World Animal Protection, a nonprofit that works internationally to save wild animals. Some of those photos are what the organization refers to as “good selfies,” with the photographer a safe distance from wildlife, but the majority are “bad selfies,” where someone can be seen mishandling an animal.

In an effort to help prevent animals from being injured or worse while being used as photo props, Instagram is now displaying a warning to any of its 800 million users who search for hashtags like “#dolphinselfie” and “#koalaselfie” along with ones like “#exoticanimalforsale.”

“Animal abuse and the sale of endangered animals or their parts is not allowed on Instagram,” says the warning that began displaying Dec. 4. “You are searching for a hashtag that may be associated with posts that encourage harmful behavior to animals or the environment.”

Photo credit: Instagram

Photo credit: Instagram

The warning will display for hashtags in English and other languages, including those of Thailand and Indonesia, where, National Geographic reports, “illicit wildlife practices have become endemic.” In addition to the warning, there’s a “Learn More” button that links to a page in the Instagram Help Center providing information about wildlife exploitation.

Instagram was motivated to display the warning after World Animal Protection investigated burgeoning wildlife tourism in the Amazon. Visitors were seen putting animals in cages and removing them from the rainforest for the purpose of taking selfies. Sloths were tied to trees with ropes to hold them in place for photos.

Working with organizations like World Animal Protection and the World Wildlife Fund, Instagram created a list of about 100 hashtags that will trigger the warning. According to Cassandra Koenen, head of wildlife campaigns for World Animal Protection, the hashtags, which Instagram is not disclosing, were chosen based on the animals that are most often photographed, as well as the types of interactions they had with people in the photos.

“It’s about helping people understand: This is what goes into that two-second interaction for you to get that photo,” Koenen told the Washington Post. “Remember that if you can hug or hold it, or you’re baiting it to have that interaction, it’s always going to be cruel.”

Instagram spokeswoman Emily Cain told National Geographic the hashtag warning is “phase one” of the company’s effort to protect animals. It already prohibits content that shows animal abuse or offers endangered animals or animal parts for sale.

The new Instagram warning will also hopefully have an impact on the wildlife traffickers and poachers who use the platform to buy and sell animals and animal parts. Once these users connect, Instagram (as well as Facebook) allow them to communicate on a private, separate platform, according to Giavanna Grein, wildlife crime program officer at TRAFFIC, a partner organization of the World Wildlife Fund that monitors wildlife trade.

“Maybe someone who’s been selling live animals on Instagram will get the pop-up and think, Okay, this is going to get a lot harder for me,” she told National Geographic.

Although it’s only phase one, those who work to protect wildlife believe Instagram’s new warning is an important first step.

“For Instagram to really step up now and recognize it and take strong measures, I think is very significant,” Crawford Allan, senior director of TRAFFIC, told National Geographic. “And it will set an important yardstick for others in social media to think about and follow.”

Are you listening, Mark Zuckerberg?

Photo credit: Instagram

112 comments

Elisabeth T
Elisabeth Tabout a month ago

Thanks for this information.

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Clare O
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago

th

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Clare O
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago

Talk about animal abuse

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Mike R
Mike Rabout a month ago

Hope we can see a difference. Happy with the news. Thanks

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Janis K
Janis Kabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Janis K
Janis Kabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Chad A
Chad Aabout a month ago

Thank you.

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Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a month ago

great news but way more has to b done online regarding all animal welfare. ty

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Virginia Abreu de Paula
Virginia Abreu de Paulaabout a month ago

I am glad to hear abou that.

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Peggy B
Peggy Babout a month ago

Good.

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