Instagram is an important platform for travelers. What better way to share travel stories than a series of taggable, geolocated photos?
There’s also a dark side to the social sharing app, with reports of travelers taking lethal selfies, breaking the law or engaging in destructive behavior in the quest for the perfect Instagram shot to promote their personal brands or the brands that have paid them for partnership opportunities.
One Instagram account, Public Lands Hate You, has taken to calling out users who engage in illegal activities in public lands in the United States. Going a step further, the account also tags and messages companies that have sponsored some posts, which in many cases has caused them to review or outright end their partnerships with the influencers.
The owner of the account declines to share identifying details, only that he’s a 30-something man in Washington state. He started the account in July 2018, after taking a hike in the Pacific Northwest to find that fellow trekkers had been violating park rules by carving their initials into trees, leaving smoldering campfires outside of permitted campfire areas and trampling off paths, resulting in the degrading of soil.
Public Lands Hate You seems to understand the draw, noting that Instagram users who break the rules in public lands are seeking a unique photo that will stand out among the thousands that are posted in popular areas, such as those recently experiencing Southern California’s super bloom. Other noteworthy locations that seem to attract bad behavior include Colorado’s Hanging Lake and Oregon’s Sahalie Falls.
The account’s model is simple: Whenever photos are taken on public lands and are in violation of the rules, PLHY posts a comment informing the users of their behavior. Sometimes a user will apologize and delete the photo or update the caption to change the tone to one of conciliation or caution to future visitors.
Understandably, some users get defensive. PLHY’s creator admits his tactics are unorthodox, but explains that the reason for the call-out comments is that the traditional methods for informing users that they’re abusing lands that are owned by the public and maintained using public funds haven’t been working, as shown by the increase in damage.
Indeed, during the recent U.S. government shutdown, national parks and other public lands were originally slated to remain open, but the lands degraded so quickly the government was forced to limit access.
Ideally, Public Lands Hate You would have users of public lands simply do their research before venturing out. Users can find out whether permits are necessary, which trails are open or closed, where campfires are permitted, what regulations on drones are, whether pets are allowed and other useful information. The rules are in place to preserve the integrity of the land and prevent public access from being limited.
In addition to PLHY’s recommendations, travelers can also follow these best practices:
• Pack out all garbage or place it in designated receptacles.
• Keep far enough away from wildlife so that natural patterns aren’t altered.
• Ensure lands are in fact public access by paying attention to maps or posted signage.
• Do not remove plants, dirt, rocks or animals.
• While many public lands are free and supported by tax dollars, their budgets are typically stretched thin — donate at ranger stations or visitor centers to support personal use.
Accounts such as PLHY draw attention to the need for users of public lands to follow “leave no trace” principles. The aim of following the rules to preserve pristine natural lands (which are threatened by climate change, let alone hordes of Instagrammers) helps ensure that for future travelers, there will still be places left worth traveling to.