Instagram Aims to Fight Animal Abuse With New Alert System

It isn’t uncommon to scroll through your Instagram feed and see pictures of your friends and family with animals. Dogs, cats, sometimes even exotic animals, if your Insta-friend was just at the zoo or on vacation in some foreign land. But today, Instagram announced that they will crack down on these photos, making sure to alert users of the dangers and prevalence of animal abuse worldwide.

Instagram searches for a wide range of wildlife hashtags will trigger a notification that will inform users of the “behind-the-scenes animal abuse that makes some seemingly innocent wildlife photos possible,” according to National Geographic.

The image-sharing platform will now send a pop-up message whenever a user searches or clicks on a hashtag like “#slothselfie.” Instagram is not disclosing all of the hashtags it has selected to ensure that people stumble upon the messages naturally.

The message reads: “You are searching for a hashtag that may be associated with posts that encourage harmful behavior to animals or the environment.”

“We care about our community, including the animals and the wildlife that are an important part of the platform,” says Instagram spokeswoman Emily Cain. “I think it’s important for the community right now to be more aware. We’re trying to do our part to educate them.”

Instagram’s decision follows investigations by National Geographic and the World Animal Protection diving into the growing industry of wildlife tourism in the Amazon. National Geographic found animals being illegally captured from the rain forest, kept in cages, and hauled out for tourists to hold and take selfies with.

There are hundreds of hashtags that are going to trigger this new message response from Instagram, in English and local languages of countries like Thailand and Indonesia, where dangerous wildlife practices have started to become the new normal.

Instagram developed the list of hashtags over numerous months while using input from the World Wildlife Fund, TRAFFIC, a partner organization of the WWF aiming to monitor wildlife trade. They also collaborated with the World Animal Protection on hashtags that seem to be most associated with concerning behavior.

The new message push was created following the growth of “wildlife selfies,” which has grown 292 percent on social media sites like Instagram since 2014, according to World Animal Protection.

Instagram also believes that this push may have the potential to help the growing issue of wildlife trafficking through social media, where traffickers buy and sell live animals and poached animal parts on sites like Instagram and Facebook.

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