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Environment & Wildlife, World Trends

GEO Tagging: How to Stay Responsible on Social Media

March 3rd 2020

Elephants walking in South AfricaIf you’re working or travelling abroad, you’re guaranteed to find plenty of Instagram-worthy moments. A quick selfie with a local, a speedy snap of a beautiful sunset, a candid shot of some mischievous orangutans. It’s understandable that we want to share our adventures with our loved ones.

Nevertheless, it’s now, more than ever, that we need to be aware of the content we are posting online. It is no longer just about ‘stranger danger’, but about protecting our environment, our wildlife and being responsible for the way we document ourselves on the internet.  

So, let’s talk about GEO tagging.

For those who don’t know, GEO tagging is the process of attaching GPS location metadata to a digital photograph, video or other media content. On social media, the majority of content posted onto sites such as Instagram and Facebook have visible GEO tags that enable its users to match with others in nearby locations. On Google, GEO tagging is a way of improving SEO (search engine optimisation) and allowing businesses to reach location-specific audiences. For many, it’s completely harmless.

However, those gorgeous safari shots and elephant portraits that pop-up on your feed, can just as easily be tracked by poachers.

Three rhinos stand infront of volunteers in foregroundSeveral wildlife organisations are urging tourists and travellers to make active efforts to turn off GEO tagging functions when capturing photographs of protected animals and environments. Sherwin Banda, a representative at Africa Travel say that ‘poachers are now using unsuspecting tourists to hunt their prey.’ For tech-savvy game hunters, a quick search on Instagram will swiftly show them the exact location of their prize. Furthermore, a coordinate search on Google Maps will lay a pin on the precise point that a photograph was taken. It minimises the search time, allowing the poacher to hone in on their prey.

For many of our projects at WorkingAbroad, this is of great concern.

We work with many sanctuaries and game reserves who protect ‘animals of value’; species that are desirable to poachers. They help fight the war against canned hunting and aim to give these animals the best lives that they possibly can. With a quick tap of a finger, this could all be destroyed.  

And it’s not just wildlife that we need to worry about. Due to a culture of Instagram and influencers, many lesser-known travel spots have seen overwhelming levels of tourism.

Sea turtle hatchling crawling on beach KefaloniaLocations around the world have been put under pressure. Some places simply do not have the infrastructure for such a rise in visitors. For example,  Boggle Seeds Farm, Horseshoe Bend and Kaaterskills Falls in the US saw an unprecedented surge of sightseers, when previously they only laid way to the occasional passerby. Tradigcialy, Kaaterskills Falls even saw four travellers die after their attempt to capture selfies on the treacherous white-water creek. 

Similarly, many beaches attract flocks of globetrotters every year who are looking to catch the waves. As you can imagine, GEO tagging only escalates the ‘buzz’. However, numerous shorelines are often home to turtle nesting areas and with an increase in sunbathers, nests get disturbed and upset the natural reproduction cycle. 

Of course, this is not to say that you shouldn’t take any photographs, ever again.  It is just important to be mindful of where you share your information. Take a look at Imore’s steps to disable your location settings to remain responsible when volunteering abroad.

Article by Amy Burchill

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Blog articles about our volunteer projects, the wider world and from volunteers in the field are shared here for everyone to get inspired and learn more about wildlife conservation topics, volunteering abroad and much more.