Rethinking Geotagging

Rethinking Geotagging

Generic Geotagging: An Opportunity for Influencers to Rethink Their Impact

Posted on 04.02.2019

In the spirit of low-impact travel, people have long been asked to “take only pictures, leave only footprints,” but now those who are taking photos are being asked to leave their geographical tags behind as well.

Statistia estimates there will be approximately 2.77 billion social media users around the world in 2019, and they’ll be sharing their photos with family, friends, fans, and followers in real time. With a few additional key strokes, these same users can “tag” the geographic location of the images they share through popular social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. In theory, this provides context for posts, but for natural and wild places in particular, these geotags are resulting in increased vehicle and foot traffic, environmental degradation, and encroachment upon wildlife and delicate ecosystems. It has turned serene, photogenic views into landscapes crammed with people elbowing through a crowd to take identical pictures.

The Leave No Trace tenets of responsible travel have existed for more than 40 years, but just last year, the organization published social media guidance asking people to avoid tagging or geotagging precise locations, instead opting for generic tagging of states or regions, if any locations at all. And in late 2018, the Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism Board (Wyoming, USA) launched a campaign encouraging social media users to avoid geotagging as well.

The sustainability section of Jackson Hole’s website notes six ways for visitors to tread lightly in the destination, but special attention is given to geotagging: “In Jackson Hole, our lands are highly ‘grammable because of a tradition of preserving the wild. Unfortunately, every time someone tags the precise location in an epic nature photo, it brings excess traffic that’s harmful to the environment. As champions of conservation, we ask that you share your photos using a generic location tag: Tag Responsibly, Keep Jackson Hole Wild.”

It’s the last part of that statement that makes all the difference: “As champions of conservation, we ask that you share your photos using a generic location tag.” Though anyone geotagging social media content helps put a destination more solidly on the map, it’s social media influencers who have had a particularly profound impact.

An influencer is someone with a loyal social media following, and this engaged audience trusts the influencer’s opinions and will take action as a result. Often, influencers are paid by brands (in the travel industry and beyond) to post imagery and content that is amplified to this loyal following.

With this influence, however, comes responsibility — a responsibility to educate followers, protect the environment, and weigh the ethical implications of their outreach. By calling out social media geotaggers as “champions of conservation,” Jackson Hole empowers influencers — and anyone using the geotagging feature — to recognize this responsibility.

“We did not want to impose restrictions or limitations that might be less inviting, and we want to expose and educate people to our natural beauty and surroundings and share what we value, love, and respect in hopes that they, too, learn and respect our natural assets. By inviting and engaging the visitor in the process, they can take ownership and get involved,” said Kate Sollitt, executive director of the Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism Board.

“So many travelers today are using their phones and Instagram to document their travels and explore. We are hoping they will do so in a more responsible manner.

Joanna Haugen
Adventure Travel News




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