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How to Avoid Shady Social Media Trends and Support Authentic Ones

Plant A Tree Co., an e-commerce charity, could not fulfill its promise of planting trees after its campaign went viral on Instagram. The company’s unsuccessful campaign highlighted the tendency social media users have to follow trends without verifying.

Instagram recently launched the “Add Yours” feature allowing users to post photos alongside prompts like “Who are you in love with?” or “OTTD.” Plant A Tree Co. quickly hopped on the trend and created the prompt, “We’ll plant one tree for every pet picture.” This was when things got out of hand. Within hours the story went viral, with thousands of users posting their pet photos to promote a good cause –– or so they thought.

As the post circulated, users began to question who was behind the initiative to plant trees for the environment. Twenty-four hours later, the organization took to their Instagram to confess their involvement in the trend.

“We immediately realized the post would grow too big and that we didn’t have the resources to plant that many trees, so we deleted it 10 minutes later,” the caption stated. “Even though we deleted it, a week later, out of nowhere, the stories continued to spread out of our control, reaching millions of reposts.”

When it became clear that the company would be unable to keep its end of the bargain, a conversation began on the impact of these trends. This isn’t the first time Plant A Tree Co. has been questioned on its authenticity.

While Instagram stories are a way for us to post things from our daily lives, they can also be used to promote and advocate for social change, including issues such as climate change. There is a benefit to promoting a social cause on your social media platforms: you can highlight important resources to educate your followers and promote different voices. Here are a few helpful tips for navigating social media and the trends that follow, especially when it comes to climate justice.

1. Verify

In times like these, Google is your friend. Research the person or brand behind the post and see what you can find. If they have a history of unfulfilled campaign promises, consider choosing another company to follow.

2. Learn

Learn more about the initiative behind the post. In this case, you can research the importance of climate change by reading and listening to different reports on the subject. Podcasts are a great way to be informed and hear from those directly impacted by these issues. For example, Canada’s National Observer created the podcast Race Against Climate Change, which covers climate change and the communities impacted by its effects.

3. Follow 

Follow climate activists and groups on Instagram and focus your attention on voices from marginalized communities that are directly impacted by climate change. Listening to experiences different from your own is crucial to understanding the importance of this movement. Mindfully spread the word on your socials and encourage others to do the same.

Some accounts to follow on Instagram are @indigenousclimateaction and @climatejusticeottawa. Indigenous Climate Change spreads awareness on climate activism throughout Indigenous communities in Canada and Climate Change Ottawa posts information on upcoming climate events in the city. If you prefer reading about these topics, the Globe and Mail has a global climate weekly newsletter.

Keep an eye out for shady social media campaigns. These trends spread fast and it’s easy to get caught up in the madness. Hopefully, more people will become aware of accounts like Plant A Tree Co. and their ill-advised campaigns. Their actions can take away from the importance of climate justice and other social movements. 

Anne-Marie is a Journalism student with a minor in English at Carleton University. Originally from Niagara Falls, Anne-Marie moved to Ottawa to study journalism. She's currently covering the Women's basketball team at Carleton.
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