Despite the knowledge that elephant rides are harmful for the elephants, many people still choose to ignore this fact and go on elephant riding trips when they visit Southeast Asia. However, in a bid to protect the animals, Instagram has moved to ban photos of elephant rides and other similarly-cruel practices.
Instagram’s ban comes in the form of both banning offending photos and the use of hashtags. Whenever a user searches for a phrase such as #elephantride, #elephantselfie, #tigerselfie, #slothselfie and many more, they are instead shown a content advisory message. The message states that “Animal abuse and the sale of endangered animals or their parts are not allowed on Instagram. You are searching for a hashtag that may be associated with posts that encourage harmful behavior to animals or the environment.” Users are then offered the chance to “cancel”, “learn more” or to ignore the message and “show posts”.
By clicking on “learn more”, users are directed to a page that educates users about the issue and about the problems that captive animals can face. Unfortunately, it’s still a necessary step, as activities such as elephant riding and playing with tigers are actively sought out by many tourists despite vocal and vehement opposition to such attractions. It was estimated by the BBC that elephants in Thailand alone gave rides to 13 million people in 2016, and the number of tourists visiting the country rises year on year.
By taking the step to prevent users from looking at potentially abusive images and explaining their rationale, it’s raising awareness of the issue and may lead to a decline in the number of tourists engaging in such activities. Social media is a powerful tool. Attaching a negative stigma to and de-glamourising such pictures is bound to be an effective measure in the fight against cruelty, and hopefully tourists instead will turn to ethical ways to interact with animals.