'Smoking hot': Instagrammers hijack bushfire hashtags with seemingly unrelated selfies

As devastating blazes continue to burn across Australia’s east, dozens of Instagrammers appear to be using the national crisis to leverage their social media accounts.

Six people have died and over 720 homes have been destroyed across NSW alone since the fires took control early in November.

However the harrowing nature of the fires has failed to deter a handful of people who are seemingly using the bushfire hashtag for what appears to be unrelated content.

A smiling woman in a yellow top in a cornfield in an Instagram post with a bushfire hashtag.
A woman shared a picture of herself smiling in a cornfield, an image appearing to be unrelated to the fire crisis, but carrying the bushfire hashtag. Source: Instagram
A person performs a yoga pose next to a Sydney swimming pool.
One Instagrammer appeared to use the fires to promote their yoga business. Source: Instagram

Among the hundreds of daily posts using the hashtag on Instagram, many of which document the dire smoke conditions, a small minority of users have shared images of themselves either posing with the smoke or photos that are in no way connected to the fires.

One man shared a photo of himself posing on his knees in vibrant pink speedos at Whitehaven Beach with blue skies.

Another person appeared to use the bushfire-related hashtags to promote their yoga classes.

A woman in a blue dress poses on a boat in Sydney Harbour.
One woman poses with the smoke in Sydney Harbour. Source: Instagram

While some offered their condolences to those effected by the fire, the choice of photos questioned the integrity of their words.

Some have even used the bushfires to make jokes in their captions.

“You can’t get burnt if you are the flame,” one woman wrote as she posed for a selfie in burnt woodland.

Another shared an image of herself in Watsons Bay with the caption: “Just Sydney being smoking hot. Ha ha ha.”

A woman in a black top looks into a camera in woodland near a road.
The caption on this selfie appeared to make light of the fires. Source: Instagram
A woman in a pink bikini on a Sydney beach.
This woman used a bikini photo to illustrate her despair at "people laughing obliviously" about the ongoing woes. Source: Instagram

On several posts, numerous other pages unrelated to bushfires are tagged in the image. Clothing brands, including a lingerie company believed to be worn in one of the images, are among the tagged.

One professional photo from a modelling page captioned an image with several bushfire hashtags and “EVERYTHING’S ON FIRE”.

A woman went on a lengthy tirade to share her despair over the inaction over the ongoing climate issues facing Australia. To illustrate her despair she shared a photo of herself smiling in a bikini.

As expected, several of the posts prompted angry comments from other users.

“Why are you promoting yourself with a picture that has nothing to do what we are experiencing now. Please remove it from this hashtag. Or I will report you,” one person threatened.

A man wears pink Speedos in shallow water at Whitehaven Beach in Queensland.
This photo of a man in the water in the Whitsundays appeared to be unrelated to the fires despite the reference. Source: Instagram

People may be oblivious to social media faux pas

The practice of hijacking hashtags during times of tragedy is nothing new.

In April, following the Sri Lankan bombings which killed more than 300 people, Instagram was awash with profiles taking advantage of the intense online interest in the incident.

And in September when Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc in the Bahamas, dozens of ‘tributes’ were slammed due to the bikini snaps accompanying them.

Social media expert Ryan Shelley, founder and managing director of Pepper IT, told Yahoo News Australia that such behaviour from Instagrammers wherever in the world would not sit well with Australians.

“Whether local or overseas, Australians are, by nature, compassionate,” he said.

A woman poses for a photo which was shared with the bushfires hashtag. Source: Instagram
Another Instagram post using the bushfires tag despite appearing unrelated. Source: Instagram
Pictured is a woman posing in Sydney in front of bushfire smoke haze.
A woman posing in front of Sydney bushfire haze. Source: Instagram

“We take on another’s loss or hardship in varying ways, and certainly have less tolerance for those who don’t display compassion and empathy in circumstances like this.”

Mr Shelley pointed towards the millions of dollars raised for koalas affected by the bushfires – an amount he believes was driven by social media – as evidence in how social media has had a positive effect.

However he said there was a small minority who manipulate such tragedies.

“Social media is a powerful platform for communities to come together. Regrettably, some people continue to take advantage of devastating events and circumstances,” he said.

Mr Shelley said some people may be oblivious to whether they’re doing anything wrong at all.

“It all comes back to someone’s moral compass and the self-regulation that occurs within their social communities. It often requires one’s peers to provide feedback that will resonate.”

Mr Shelley previously labelled those who capitalise off tragedies as “shallow”.

“It’s unacceptable,” he said.

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