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December 5, 2017

Think twice about posting that koala selfie, Instagram warns

by John_A

Remember that news story where beachgoers in Argentina reportedly plucked a young dolphin from the sea and passed it around for selfies (above) before it overheated and died? There was a similar incident at a zoo in China, too, where visitors handled a couple of peacocks for selfies, causing both to die of apparent fright.

As a result of incidents like these, Instagram is finally taking steps to make its users aware of the more sinister aspects of some animal photos on its service. 

The Facebook-owned company says it’s concerned about how some photographic efforts on its service might impact the animal’s well-being, and wants its users to consider how they interact with them.

As a result, Instagram will now present a “content advisory” message whenever someone searches for a hashtag “associated with harmful behavior to animals or the environment,” while at the same time reminding ‘grammers that “animal abuse and the sale of endangered animals or their parts are not allowed” on the service.

The hashtag list was developed in consultation with the World Wildlife Fund, TRAFFIC, an organization that helps to monitor wildlife trade, and World Animal Protection.

Instagram isn’t giving any specific examples of hashtags that’ll trigger the pop-up message, so it’s impossible to comment on its effectiveness at this early stage. However, we can already see that #koalaselfie, #slothselfie, and #monkeyselfie all trigger the message. At the time of writing, #dolphinselfie and #peacockselfie don’t.

Despite Instagram’s insistence that the “protection and safety of the natural world are important to us and our global community,” and that it’s “committed to fostering a safer, kinder world both on Instagram and beyond the app,” animal welfare advocates may be disappointed to discover that once the user has read the pop-up message, they can still choose to view the content. Alternatively, they can “learn more,” or cancel their search.

According to National Geographic (NG), Instagram was prompted to take action after an investigation by NG and World Animal Protection into the growing industry of problematic wildlife tourism in the Amazon found “animals being illegally captured from the rain forest, kept in cages, and hauled out for well-meaning tourists to hold and take selfies with.”

Cassandra Koenen of World Animal Protection told NG she hopes the warnings will cause those using Instagram to take a moment to consider the kind of content they’re searching for. “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.’” It might also make users think twice about taking such pictures themselves, an act that brings with it its own risks and dangers.

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