When it comes to documenting our travel adventures, we live in a culture of oneupmanship. It’s not enough to climb to the top of a summit—you need a photo of yourself balancing in tree pose on its peak. You can’t just visit the Great Wall of China; you have to sleep in a one-of-a-kind Airbnb on top of it. And what’s the point of visiting a historic fountain if you don’t document yourself splashing around in it, stripped down to your underwear?
The problem, of course, is that in the age of social media, law-breakers and rule-ignorers can’t be dismissed as one-off bad actors. Extreme or bad behavior that’s shared online begets ever-more extreme and even worse behavior, leading to monuments, parks, and historical sites that are being tarnished by those who visit—and geotag—them.
In response to that threat, a Change.org petition is calling for Facebook and Instagram to implement a reporting system allowing users to flag accounts that are clearly breaking laws in their pictures. It has amassed nearly 10,000 signatures. The petition cites activities such as flying drones where they’re not allowed, trespassing into restricted or prohibited areas, and disturbing wildlife as examples of the lengths to which people will go to for a good picture.
“When individuals use Instagram to publicly post photos and videos of themselves breaking the law and engaging in activities that are harmful to the environment, there is seldom any legal recourse,” the petition states. “Without any sort of regulation, it is impossible to stop the spread of media that might encourage other Instagram users to engage in similar illegal and damaging behavior.”
The petition pertained specifically to what it called “outdoor ethics” violations. There is certainly growing concern about the effect that outdoor influencer culture has on the actual outdoors—so much so that the Center for Outdoor Ethics issued new social media guidance. But the problem extends from the backcountry to cities and modes of transportation, as well as antiquities and museums too. In Rome, police are on the hunt for the aforementioned fountain-dipping pair of tourists, who broke the law with their antics. Tragically, some tourists go so far to get a good selfie that they end up injuring themselves or even perishing in the process.
It’s easy to blame social media for the decline in decorum of travelers as a whole. In reality, it’s likely that the ever-increasing number of travelers means that there’s a larger likelihood that people will do foolish things. But while we can’t stop people from doing stupid things, these petitioners hope that social-media platforms can at least stop them from getting likes for it.