The social photo sharing app, Instagram, is slowly rolling out hashtag tools to tackle social issues such as depression, self-harm and suicide. Last month they introduced a new pop-up warning when users search for hashtags connected to animal abuse.
We all love photos of cute animals, but selfies with endangered species has risen to epidemic proportions. Other related issues are popular tourist activities such as camel or elephant riding and swimming with dolphins. Although there is no immediately visible animal abuse, many undergo cruel taming and training for the pleasure of tourists. As a result, conservation organisations like World Animal Protection and the WWF have worked with Instagram to develop this warning system.
So how does it work?
Now when users carry out a search of certain hashtags, a warning will appear telling users about animal abuse. Users can then choose whether to abandon the search, get more information about the warning or proceed to the images.
One interesting point that comes out of this is that users who post images and add the flagged hashtags don’t see any warning. Only the users who search for those specific hashtags do. But it won’t take long before posters learn which hashtags trigger the warning. Therefore, Instagram will have to work hard to keep pace with new hashtags as they are created.
While this system might deter some users from finding images, it doesn’t prevent those taking the photographs from posting. Instagram, along with other social media sites, must play a delicate balancing act between censoring users’ content and warning them of potentially harmful content. It isn’t an easy job when you consider that the app has 500 million daily users uploading around 60 million images per day.
Instagram says that the warning is there to educate and not to shame users. The more aware we are of our environment and the wildlife within it the better for everyone. And whilst I applaud Instagram’s move, I can’t help but feel that it’s a half measure. We should be aiming to stop animal suffering at source. But this is a little victory and hopefully it’s the first of many to come.
The feature image is by JessicaBlueElephants on pixabay. There is no suggestion that the animals in this photograph are subject of abuse in any way.