WARNING – DISTRESSING CONTENT: While many people log in to Instagram to look at funny videos, there are certain hashtags that will trigger a pop-up, warning the user they may be about to stumble onto images of potential animal abuse.
A spokesperson for Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, spoke to Yahoo News Australia about how they try to minimise animal exploitation on the site.
“To better educate people on these issues, we offer warnings when someone searches for a hashtag associated with wildlife exploitation,” he said.
“We also work with wildlife experts to continually refine our policies and procedures when it comes to potential danger to animals.”
Evan Quartermain from Humane Society International (HSI) said many people don’t know the tragic stories behind animals used in popular photographs.
“People who are unaware of the cruelty behind captive animals that are used as props to try and garner more clicks,” he said.
“To encourage people not to engage in wildlife being exploited for tourism is a positive move,” he added in reference to the Instagram policy.
Instagram is working with a number of wildlife protection groups, trying to refine its efforts to remove exploitation images.
Hashtags that will result in a pop-up warning the posts could be associated with wildlife exploitation include #elephantride, #tigerselfie and #slothselfie.
“Instagram cares about its community, including the animals that are an important and fun part of the platform,” a spokesperson said.
“We do not allow animal abuse or the sale of endangered animals on Instagram.”
‘We got blocked from sharing images’
Getting the balance right in knowing what to filter can be tricky, with Mr Quartermain warning there is a fine line between helping animals and hindering them.
The social media company had come to believe that posts containing #dubaidolphinarium would reveal images of animal abuse.
“You are searching for a hashtag that may be associated with posts that encourage harmful behaviour to animals or the environment,” the warning read.
Instagram told Yahoo News Australia that the warnings associated with #dubaidolphinarium have since been lifted.
At the time of writing, the hashtag #dolphinarium was another that triggered an alert.
‘Restricted our ability to raise awareness’
Mr Quartermain said a HSI campaign to raise awareness around shark drum lines suffered a similar fate, with Facebook ruling it potentially sensitive.
“We obtained footage of a shark that was trapped on a drum line with a hook through its mouth, quite close to death, and in pain,” he said.
“That footage was really important to us to be able to show people the cruelty behind the culling program, to show them what’s really happening there.
“We got blocked from sharing images of the hooked sharks on social media because it was considered animal cruelty and so Facebook protected their users by blocking it.
“The move restricted our ability to raise awareness about the issue.”
‘Blocked from social media’
After HSI’s pictures were published, the Queensland government introduced laws which prevented HSI from capturing more images of the sharks.
“After we got it, it got blocked from social media and then there was legislative change that prevents us from getting it again in the future,” he said.
Fisheries Queensland issued a statement outlining their reasons for preventing people getting close to drum lines.
“The Queensland Government places great importance on maintaining the safety of swimmers at our beaches,” a spokesperson said.
“The nets and drums lines used by the Shark Control Program can be dangerous.
“There have been a number of incidents in Queensland where people have injured themselves on this equipment, including one fatality.
“That is why a new law was introduced earlier this year which establishes a 20m exclusion zone in all directions around the nets and baited drumlines used by the Shark Control Program.
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