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Is Instagram apathetic? #ActForNature

(Preemptive apologies to my non-Instagram readers.)

Let’s address the elephant in our collective virtual room:
Why do we spend endless hours photographing nature but very few actually defending it?

Social media is famous for its ability to escalate social movements for change. Consider the Egyptian Uprising, #Ferguson, #BlackLivesMatter, #BringBackOurGirls, and the #IceBucketChallenge for a start. But all of these movements were/are centered on Twitter, with Facebook as a sidekick. What about Instagram?*

This fall, Socality Barbie brought Instagram’s #liveauthentic movement’s artificiality into light. The press went wild, attacking the culture for it’s glaringly obvious inauthenticity. In my favorite article, Hilary Oliver argues compellingly that the #liveauthentic culture is a cry for meaning from the millennials’ that stems from our suburban, programmed, and privileged childhoods (read here).

These criticisms are fair, but I’d like to add my own.

(In case you missed it: The Socality Barbie Instagram features a hipster Barbie who, with hilarious irony, “skewers something about how plastic Instagram has become,” more at The Guardian.)

For the sake of  “authenticity,” I’ll confess – I’m an Instagram newbie. I adopted the platform as a way to market my road trip blog last spring. However, I’ve spent the last six months studying the culture for myself as well as my new employer. I’m not successful enough to give advice, but I’ve had enough exposure to develop opinions of the culture.

I was recently hired by an environmental advocacy non-profit, the San Juan Citizens Alliance, as a campaign coordinator. Immediately, I noted we weren’t actively using Instagram. This confused me.

The original @LiveAuthentic group’s mission is “promoting active and authentic lifestyles in the great outdoors.” Nature is the center of their everything. Why wouldn’t an organization focused on the conservation of nature actively use Instagram to appeal to this group of millennial nature lovers?

I figured out why when I took over the @SJCAlliance Instagram account.

The hashtags I was so fond of during my road trip have everything to do with appreciating nature – and nothing to do with protecting it (e.g. #liveauthentic, #wearestillwild, #choosemountains, #seekthetrails, #outdoorlife, #wildernessculture, #freshairandfreedom, #neverstopexploring, #themountainsarecalling, #meetthemoment, #theoutbound).

There are no successful hashtag campaigns for environmental movements (successful = more than 30,000 tagged posts). I’ve looked long and hard. If you know one I’ve somehow missed, please let me know so I can participate.

There are more than 400 million users on Instagram, at least 75% of us are under 35 years old, and we’re likely to be in the top income quartile. That means there’s a lot of us, we’re young and able, and collectively we have major monetary power. 400 million people!

Think of the impact we could make if we started giving a shit. What would happen if we started a collective conversation? Started worrying about the environments we claim to depend so heavily on?

Or even better: What if we actually started doing something to protect the future of our natural world? That would be worth sharing.

Tag a picture #ActForNature. Show (or tell) us what you are doing to protect the world you love. Maybe we can begin to inspire not just art, but also action.

Here, I’ll start. 


* I should note that Instagram has certainly had successful campaigns. Notably in leave no trace, outdoor women’s empowerment, simple living, being present, and inner strength. All of these are admirable, but none address the critical environmental issues I’m talking about.


you know that thing? just do it.


resolutions for a better future.

1 Comment

  1. Jan Golden

    I don’t do Instagram, so I know I shouldn’t really comment, but we (yours and my generations) also need to elect the right people into office who will appoint the right people into positions that can also impact policy changes. It’s a multi-faceted problem. Pictures alone; talk alone do not solve the problem. When I was in junior high school several decades ago, I did a science photo project on pollution – air, water, land. People have been talking and photographing for a long time.

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