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Image credit: AOL/Steve Dent

Instagram warns you if posts show harm to animals or nature

It's finally starting to address the problem of unethical wildlife tourism.
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AOL/Steve Dent

Protecting wildlife and sensitive natural areas is hard enough as it is, and it's not helping that every brain-dead tourist wants to post a selfie with a koala bear or dolphin. Starting today, Instagram is making it harder to find such content. If you search hashtags associated with images that could harm wildlife or the environment, it will post a warning before letting you proceed.

"I think it's important for the community right now to be more aware," Instagram's Emily Cain told National Geographic. "We're trying to do our part to educate them."

At the same time, selfies taken in newly Instagram-popular spots, like Bonneville Salt Flats and Yellowstone National Park, can ravage their sensitive environments. That forces officials to either shut down the spots or make them more tourist-friendly, destroying their original character.

Now, if you search on several hundred terms, the app will throw a flag saying "Protect Wildlife on Instagram," adding that "you are searching for a hashtag that may be associated with posts that encourage harmful behavior to animals or the environment." Only then can you see posts, learn more or cancel the operation.

The decision followed an investigation by National Geographic and World Animal Protection into wildlife tourism. The investigators discovered that animals were being captured illegally from rain forests and kept in cages, then trotted out for selfies with tourists ignorant of their plight.

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.

The warning will pop up for hundreds of hashtags, both in English and the languages of Thailand, Indonesia and other nations where selfie wildlife tourism is rampant. Instagram isn't saying which terms will trigger the flags, though, as it wants users to discover them on their own.

World Animal Protection's Cassandra Koenen points out that the animals people most want to pet or hold, like koala's and sloths, really don't like being handled. And the problem is made worse because tourists are terrible at determining which attractions treat animals poorly.

Though Instagram's gesture doesn't seem like it'll be much of a deterrent, Koenen believes that it will stop folks that don't mean harm and just don't know better. "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," she said.

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