February 18, 2020

Instragram Versus the Environment

“There was once a swimming hole in a stream-fed gorge on the public lands of the Catskill Mountains that was gloriously free of Homo sapiens. You could go there in the height of summer and see no one and have the deep blue pools to yourself. Then came Instagram. I won’t tell you the name of the gorge or provide a link to the pictures, as that would only worsen the invasion of drunken, littering, caterwauling people in what was once a redoubt of solitude and quiet.

Instagram users who love the outdoors have a habit of ruining the wild places they touch—a perverse irony that seems lost on them. It is now axiomatic that a locale of stunning natural beauty will quickly degrade into a morass of crowding once it is posted on the platform as a pristine image. The herd instinct kicks in, and other users who also want to be photographed in those same lovely landscapes converge with their own cameras and Instagram accounts and followers—ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

It is therefore with great delight that I’ve been following the work of the saboteur who runs Public Lands Hate You, an Instagram account dedicated to exposing this noxious dynamic and castigating the app’s proliferating culture of “influencers.” The anonymous 31-year-old Idaho man behind the account—who doesn’t want his name published for fear that the Instagrammers he sabotages will come after him personally—warns on his page: “If you think this world and our public lands are here for you to promote yourself; your advertisers; your promoters; your photographer; anything with ‘You’ in it—you’re wrong. Very, very wrong.”

This fellow, who I’ll call Sabot, is an environmental engineer and an inveterate hiker and backpacker. “I’ve spent a lot of my life on our public lands, be it national parks, state parks, national forests, or Bureau of Land Management land,” Sabot wrote me in an email. “I started PLHY as a way to vent my frustration about the abuse I was seeing.” By this he means the illegal trails, campsites, and campfires; the growing trash along the trails; the human feces, improperly disposed, stinking in the forests and the canyons; the freshwater pools turned into urinals; the ancient archeological sites vandalized and looted; the trees scarred from the maulings of knives, the rocks graffitied, the vegetation stomped out of existence; and so on.”

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