Wildlife selfies can be seriously problematic. In October, National Geographic published an investigative article on the trend of “selfie safaris,” in which tourists pay money to take pictures of themselves interacting with wild animals. This practice fuels animal abuse and threats to wild animal populations. In light of reports from National Geographic and other organizations, Instagram is stepping up.
In order to educate users about the harm caused by wildlife selfies, Instagram has initiated a new alert system. When users enter a hashtag that is related to wildlife selfies or the illegal wildlife trade, they will receive a pop-up warning them of the dangers associated with those activities. Users will then be able to follow links to more information about wildlife selfies and the illegal wildlife trade.
Instagram is not releasing much information on which hashtags will trigger the warning, to make it harder for users to preemptively avoid them.
There are several reasons why wildlife selfies are harmful, which National Geographic has explained in depth. Most of the animals that are used in selfies, such as sloths, experience extreme stress when being handled by humans. “Hugging” sloths for selfies can thus lead to significant health problems for the animals. There is also the fact that many of the creatures used for selfie safaris are plucked from the wild, therefore furthering the decline of wild populations.
Lastly, many animals are held in prison-like conditions between selfies. Others, like elephants and dolphins, have to be abusively broken in before tourists can ride or swim with them.
By paying to take wildlife selfies and ride elephants, tourists are furthering the abuse of wild animals. Sharing their photos on instagram is even more problematic, as it encourages others to take selfie safaris. Instagram hopes that its new alert system will help to curb these trends.