Cuddling sloths, swimming with dolphins, and elephant rides are all popular vacation activities — but all involve underlying cruelty, according to Instagram.
Vacation snaps featuring cuddly koalas or elephant rides might seem cute, but Instagram wants to warn its users of the potential animal abuse going on under the surface of these operations.
Since Monday, the photo-sharing platform now presents users with a pop-up message if they search for the certain animal or wildlife hashtags. The alerts warn users of the potential behind-the-scenes animal abuse that makes the cute cubs and cuddly koala snaps possible.
If users search or click on hashtags such as "#slothselfie," "#elephantride," or "#exoticanimalforsale," an alert pops up on the user's device which they must acknowledge before they are redirected to the search results.
In part, the message reads: "You are searching for a hashtag that may be associated with posts that encourage harmful behaviour to animals or the environment."
Users are then presented with three options: "learn more," "show posts," or "cancel."
If users want to learn more about the wildlife photography and animal exploitation, "learn more" will redirect them to a page in the Instagram Help Centre that discusses wildlife exploitation and animal abuse.
Instagram compiled the list of animal hashtags over the space of several months with input from the World Animal Protection, World Wildlife Fund, and TRAFFIC — an organisation that works alongside the WWF to monitor the trade of wildlife.
Similar alerts are already set up for many hashtags in dozens of languages related to suicide, self-harm, and eating disorders.
The full list of hashtags which issue the alert has not been disclosed by the social media platform. Instead, Instagram would rather users discover them on their own while searching.
By issuing the alert, Instagram hopes to open the eyes of its users to the animal exploitation that could be going on behind the photo.
Cassandra Koenen, who worked with Instagram to compile the list as part of her work with World Animal Protection, told National Geographic: "If someone's behaviour 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 that there's a problem with this photo.'
"Even if the cruelty isn't right in front of you, [there's] cruelty that's behind the scenes to get to that point."
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Many tourists and holiday-goers reportedly struggle to tell when a wildlife excursion or hands-on animal experience might be bad for the animal's well-being, according to National Geographic.
A number of animals, including sloths, don't enjoy being held. As a result, being repeatedly cuddled by humans as part of a "hands-on" animal experience can be extremely distressing.
Similarly, elephants and dolphins both have to undergo gruelling and painful "taming" processes before being subjected to the "swimming with dolphins" and "elephant trekking" excursions that many tourists seek out while abroad.