The Great Geo-Tag Debate

If you use Instagram, then you most likely know by now there is a geo-tagging option. This allows users to take a photograph at a beautiful park, a beach, a restaurant, or even a business and let everyone who sees the photograph know exactly where to find this place. On the surface, it seems completely harmless, and most people would not even give this a second thought when they enter the location on their photograph to share with their followers. However, a growing debate has started about the issues of geo-tagging, and how this is affecting ecosystems and areas around the World. 

A place near and dear to my heart is in the middle of this debate right now, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Back in November, Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism Board asked visitors and residents to stop geo-tagging locations. They created the tag “Tag Responsibly, Keep Jackson Hole Wild” and asked that people use that geo-tag instead of tagging specific trails, locations, and landmarks. Over the years Jackson Hole and the surrounding parks have seen a huge rise in tourism, a rise that unfortunately, the ecosystem cannot handle. For example, Delta Lake years ago only had one or two hikers a day making the 9 mile trek to it, however now, park rangers are seeing around 145 people each day. What used to be outdoor enthusiasts and hikers, has turned into engagement shoots, product commercials, and tourists unequipped for a long hike. 

Jackson Hole isn’t the only location dealing with the geo-tagging issue though. Hong Kong has become a popular destination for hoards of photographers wanting to photograph the many residential buildings causing residents headaches. The Pacific Northwest has seen a rise in vandalism and traffic in hidden waterfall areas and on their coastline. South Africa has now posted signs asking photographers and visitors to stop tagging photographs of rhinos because of poachers. Urbanx and “Bando” photographers stopped tagging locations a long time ago because too many of the abandoned buildings and treasures they were photographing were being vandalized and destroyed completely. If you ask any of those photographers were a certain photograph is taken, there is a very very small chance you will get the answer and most will flat out tell you they aren’t going to disclose the location. 

Unfortunately, Instagram has started a new phenomenon of “do it for the ‘gram”, which is encouraging people to go further and further for the shot that is going to bring in the most amount of likes. Many times this shot is at the expense of the ecosystem. A perfect example of this is the group of Canadian tourists who traveled to Grand Prismatic in Yellowstone National Park a couple of years back. They wanted the best shot they could get to promote their clothing company, so what did they do? They walked right off the boardwalk and on to Grand Prismatic to take their shot. Now they were caught, jailed, fined and banned from federal state land, however, each person who walks off that boardwalk does damage to the ecosystem and overtime this will have a large effect. 

Now all of this geo-tagging seems bad, but there is a small up side. It does help tourism, and that in turn drives economy. Geo-tags are getting more people out to enjoy our National Parks, and the beautiful sites the World has to offer. Geo-tags can are showing people gorgeous areas that are in their backyard that they haven’t seen yet. So how do we stop the “collect them all” type attitude when it comes to seeing all these precious sites and posting them all over Instagram? How do we let everyone enjoy these sites but also protect them at the same time? 

It’s tricky, but I think it can be done. First, photographers have the responsibility to follow all the rules and not break them just to get a shot. If a photographer with a large following is breaking the rules by stepping over boundaries, getting too close to wildlife, using a drone, or anything else, why would anyone else feel like they had to listen to the rules. Photographers must set a good example! When it comes to geo-tagging, I know I personally no longer tag specific sites when I post to Instagram. I will tag the entire park, or the city, but not the actual place. Also after researching this topic, I learned that a lot of the damage could be prevented if people were better informed. As with most things education is key. If photographers posted facts about the location, or taught their followers about Leave No Trace Behind, or facts about responsible camping and following park rules, I believe that would help. Many times people have a hard time seeing how their tiny steps off the trail or up these rocks affect the ecosystem because they are just one person, but teaching them about how over time and if everyone did that the affects it would have could change their thought process. I know from here on out I am going to try and include some facts in my captions because I think spreading knowledge is important. 

I’m curious where you stand on this debate. Is it something you had ever thought about? If so, what are your thoughts and what do you think should be done? Let me know!