How to Kindly Give a F*** - Instagram Influencers and The Destruction of Protected Lands
Social media is in an uproar right now; Bri Madia (@briannamadia) took down her Instagram and people are freaking out. I say: good, great, hopefully others at least reevaluate their presence.
The account @PublicLandsHateYou posted something that obviously triggered the community and ultimately became the last straw for Bri; now other accounts, well the ones that are in Bri’s private Instagram group chat, are standing up for her. By the way, if you did not know that Instagram has secret group messages between influencers, you do now. While I was running the account for my dogs Instagram a while back, I befriended someone who had been included on these private group messages between IG dog-fluencer accounts and she told me about all of it: how they only promote each others’ accounts, will only plan certain activities based off of how well it might do when posting to the public, and other disturbingly high-school oriented bullshit.
It was only a matter of time before the majority of the public woke from the ignorant slumber they were induced to via social media; companies have been marketing and in-authentically advertising for years now, I mean our entire society is based around obsoletism, so it should not come to much surprise, but people are starting to really grasp how much influencers are fucking our world up, both mentally and physically. There have been upsets in the cosmetology world, the clothing/fashion world, and now the outdoor community is on the hot seat specifically. Just take a look at the sub-Reddit: r/instagramreality
Reported on June 11, 2019, the infamous Temple of the Moon located within the outskirts of Capitol Reef National Park (on park land, not outside of it) was found to have a brand new decoration etched into it: https://fox13now.com/2019/06/11/capitol-reefs-temple-of-the-moon-found-vandalized/ ; this is followed by many of other infuriating destruction/disrespects of public lands, like the closure at False Kiva in August 2018 (https://fstoppers.com/landscapes/vandalism-false-kiva-canyonlands-closes-access-277714).
So what’s the big deal and why are influencers the main target right now? Social media in itself has promoted a lot of positives and a lot more negatives; people are exploring more, traveling more, advertising themselves more, all for personal reaffirmation aka getting “likes”. They want to be like the influencers they follow, they want to be important enough to be sponsored, they think that if they replicate or somehow make their same experience better that they will get famous from it. While they are not totally wrong with this method, it is also what is destroying our public lands. Influencers often post their locations, they hashtag them or geo-tag them, and if they aren’t currently doing it/haven’t done it in the past few months or years, it’s because they already got famous back in the day off of it. How do you think Brianna Madia got picked up by REI???? After I tried to tell @katieboue that she was part of the problem by geo-tagging locations in her posts and explicitly talking about them in the captions, she tried to rationalize it by saying, “I only tag locations of places that have an infrastructure to be able to handle large-scale visitation” completely glazing over my points about Arches NP having to close their entrance due to high volumes of visitors nowadays, about False Kiva having to be closed, about the Temple of the Moon being defaced - all protected areas that were designed to welcome tourists.
You are 100% part of the problem when you hashtag, geo-tag, or explicitly share details about the locations you travel to. Be old school, keep it simple, and encourage people to pick up an actual map. It should anger you when you show up to a campsite you’ve had in your back pocket for years, and it’s riddled with trash or mutilated by overuse; it should make you want to scream and yell; it should make you care so much that if effects you across all aspects of your life. You don’t have to go out your way to be mean but that doesn’t mean you need to sit silently and fume; stand up for the land, stand up for what is right, stand up and set a good example.
Leave No Trace recently published a statement in regards to the chaos that unfolded thanks to @PublicLandsHateYou shedding the proper light on a topic that was going unaddressed; “Shaming Is Not the Answer - Remember that everyone’s experience in the outdoors in unique and personal. Online shaming and bullying in the name of Leave No Trace is never endorsed by the Center nor is it effective in terms of influencing choice in the outdoors. (continued at https://lnt.org/new-social-media-guidance/ )” and it is probably the most disappointing release on this new guideline. While yes, shaming is not the answer in the sense that you don’t need to be cruel in your words, it is effective. Let me remind you of a time when I was hiking in Montana: there was a section in the trail that had spaced switchbacks that naturally made walking around them in a direct line uphill way more favorable; as I was hiking down, I watched a group of four adults leave the main trail and shortcut it through the vegetation, to which when I came within an audible distance from them, I said, “hey you really should do that, there are trails in place for a reason, please respect that; it damages the land when you do this kind of stuff” and I was met with quiet apologies and a fifth party individual who had taken the trail to get to this point, laughing saying “I told you, you shouldn’t do that”. My point? The shaming here worked, I bet they didn’t come off trail after that. Why? Because now all of the sudden they aren’t just hiking among other disrespectful people, instead they now are thinking about how else will call them out if they mess up again.
Negativity is always met with more negativity; people are notorious for not being able to handle constructive criticism and now more than ever we live in a society that can’t step one inch in any direction without being offended. While people like @katieboue are trying to implement infrastructure for influencers to abide by, she isn’t even going to the lengths that she needs to as an influencer herself to help protect these places; providing more education will change the outcome but you need to also be actively correcting your own behaviors in the meantime. Lead by example, practice what you preach.
Think harder about the geo-tag you put on a post; think longer about the effects that it can have. Think harder about how you would have found these places if social media didn’t exist; think longer about how you would have researched these places without just commenting “where is this *heart-eye-emoji?” Encourage people who are interested in the places you share, to speak to you directly, and remind them that they have a responsibility to not exploit these places. For a while, I used to comment passively back to people who would ask where something was with things like, “google it” or “page 52 of the atlas” until I realized that if I just ignored the questions, the people who really, truly wanted to gain more information on a place, would message me directly.
@elisabethontheroad was campaigning for a while in regards to forcing social media outlets like Instagram and Facebook to take more action against people who post photos that are a) illegal or b) clearly violating LNT Principles. She created a petition that surfed the platforms and gained support but it also gained a huge amount of backlash. She had spent a lot of time calling other people out for their wrong-doings and she was more often being met with aggression and peoples’ inability to admit their fault and take responsibility. As of currently, she does not seem to be pursing this like she used to, instead she has reverted back to a more complacent position of promoting education through inspiration and positivism (probably because she lost sponsors and we all know that IG influencers depend on their sponsorships) and also siding against what was said by @PublicLandsHateYou. Mind you, she is more or less in the business of calling people out and it was inspiring, especially after you arrive to your campsite that you’ve had saved for years on end to find it overrun with broken glass, burnt cans, and destroyed crypto.
Keep calling people out; always assume that they are not educated in their social responsibilities and remember that those facts are really the only ammo you have to use. Attacking them personally is not the answer, but calling them out for their actions needs to happen. We are all human, we make mistakes, it’s apart of our genetic makeup to not be perfect in all that we do; one mistake shouldn’t ruin your life, but it damn better teach you a lesson.
Recap: do your part to protect places, stop geo-tagging/hashtagging places, and call people out on their mistakes but don’t fucking send them death threats.
Social media has ruined our earth already but it doesn’t mean that you should give up.