Instagram cracks down on these adorable travel selfies.

If you're a social media maven, you may have noticed a bloom of animal selfies over the past few years.

A baby monkey grasps a tourist's fingers at a temple in Thailand. While many wildlife tourist sites are legitimate, an Instagram campaign is highlighting how some are more sinister in the ways they promote animal selfies. Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images.

You know the ones I'm talking about — a friend or celebrity posing with a monkey on their trip to Thailand, or holding a koala in Australia, or bench-pressing a whale. (I kid. Please don't try to bench-press whales).


A few years ago, these photos only showed up here and there. But lately, they've really taken off — along with the popularity of selfie-friendly apps like Snapchat and Instagram. In fact, there's been nearly a 300% increase in animal selfies since 2014.

But as cute as these animal pictures are, and as empowering as it can be to take a great selfie, there's simply something rotten going on with many of them — no matter how pure the intentions are of anyone individual using the #monkeyselfie hashtag.

It turns out that many of those seemingly innocent, totally adorable images are at the end of a very dark chain of events.

So from now on, if you search certain hashtags on Instagram (like #monkeyselfie, #koalaselfie, or #tigerselfies — along with hundreds of other unannounced hashtags, according to National Geographic), you'll likely trigger a message like this:

Image from James Gaines/Instagram.

But what could be so wrong with a cute picture with an animal? Most of these images aren't exactly clear-cut cases of animal abuse (like the time a baby dolphin was accidentally killed during a mass selfie spree in Argentina).

The real problem is much more insidious — one that Instagrammers might not even realize is going on.

In many parts of the world, tour guides or hot spots might try to provide guests with the opportunity to meet some wild animals. Some might be on the level, but in others, unscrupulous guides or agencies will actually capture animals from the wild, cage them, and use drugs or cruelty to tame them.

All in the name of five seconds of hugging a sloth.

Of course, tourists don't get to see the sad part. All they're aware of is that they snapped a selfie — and possibly scored a couple hundred likes or faves.

In a way, by trying to educate its entire audience through these warnings, Instagram is acting kind of like a whistle-blower on this issue.

Wildlife protection agencies are a fan of Instagram's decision. Cassandra Koenen, who works at the nonprofit World Animal Protection, says she hopes it'll make people pause before sharing something.

“If someone's behavior is interrupted, hopefully they'll think, 'Maybe there's something more here, or maybe I shouldn't just automatically like something or forward something or repost something if Instagram is saying to me there's a problem with this photo,'" Koenen told National Geographic.

In fact, Instagram worked with agencies, such as World Animal Protection and the World Wildlife Fund, for months to make sure they got this right.

The filter will also pop up for hashtags related to the often abusive exotic wildlife trade, such as #exoticanimalsforsale. Instagram hopes this will help disrupt wildlife traffickers' ability to find buyers via social media.

Social media is a powerful tool, but one that often unwittingly enables or hosts abuse. Instagram stepping up, recognizing the role they play, and taking steps to act responsibly is huge.

Hopefully it could help inspire individual users or even other social media sites to join in.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Texas Representative James Talarico is on a mission to get his constituents the life-saving medicine they need. The 31-year-old lawmaker has just introduced legislation that would cap the price of insulin—a medicine people with type 1 diabetes need to live, which has become unaffordable for many—at $50 a month.

The mission is personal for Talarico, as he nearly died three years ago when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

He shared his story on Twitter:

"In May 2018, I was a healthy 28-year-old running for the Texas House. I decided to walk the entire length of my district and hold town halls along the way. I hike Big Bend every year, so I wasn't concerned about a 25 mile walk...

But halfway through the walk, I began feeling nauseous and fatigued. Before the town hall in Hutto, I vomited in the bathroom."

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less