Instagram will hide people taking selfies with animals amid fears they are encourage abuse

Many animals don't like to be held, and must be captured and stolen to force them to do so

A woman takes a selfie in front of the lions open-air cage at the Tbilisi zoo
A woman takes a selfie in front of the lions open-air cage at the Tbilisi zoo

You might accidentally be enabling abuse of animals by taking selfies with them, a new report has warned.

Seemingly innocent animal selfies actually encourages all kinds of exploitation and distress, according to an investigation. And Instagram will now try and alert people to those dangers, while discouraging them from posting such pictures.

Many animals like sloths and koalas don't like being handled, and being carried around to pose for selfies could cause them great amounts of distress. What's more, many such animals are taken from their natural habitat and traded in exploitative ways so that people can take selfies on holiday.

That was the finding of a new investigation that has led Instagram to hide such posts on the site and encourage people not to take them. Anyone trying to search for or post such images will now see a warning about the ways they might accidentally be encouraging abuse.

Now anyone trying to search for the kinds of hashtags on which people post such behaviour – like #KoalaSelfie or #SlothSelfie – will see a message telling them that they might be enabling abusive behaviour.

"Animal abuse and the sale of endangered animals or their parts is not allowed on Instagram," it reads. "You are searching for a hashtag that may be associated with posts that encourage harmful behaviour to animals or the environment."

Instagram's press release is clear that such posts will be hidden and that they won't be tolerated on Instagram.

"Starting today, when a person searches for a hashtag associated with harmful behaviour to animals or the environment, they will see a content advisory screen," it said. "Animal abuse and the sale of endangered animals or their parts are not allowed on Instagram."

But many people who are enabling that abuse might not even know they're actually doing so. Instagram has been prompted to act to hide the posts because so many people are accidentally doing it – by indulging in apparently innocent behaviour.

The decision was made after an investigation was launched by National Geographic into the way that social networks were encouraging dangerous animal tourism. It found that animals were being captured in the wild and held in often horrible conditions, purely so they could be used by tourists to take selfies with.

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

The site said that it hoped people would be more "thoughtful" in future about the ways their behaviour might indulge exploitation.

"The protection and safety of the natural world are important to us and our global community," Instagram said. "We encourage everyone to be thoughtful about interactions with wild animals and the environment to help avoid exploitation and to report any photos and videos you may see that may violate our community guidelines."

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