Should We Stop Geotagging on Social Media?3 min read

Social media platform Instagram is almost a decade old and thanks to its one billion users, it’s thriving like never before. For many of us, scrolling, liking and posting has become a daily ritual. So has geotagging. This is especially true when we travel and go on vacations. We assign a digital geographical identification to our photos and, consequently, link it up to all other posts that share that same location.

Yet, geotagging isn’t always as innocent or straight-forward as it seems. Every geotagged post is another entry that boosts a location’s online presence. Every post increases a location’s exposure and visibility. And this isn’t always for the better, as pages like Insta Wrecked are starting to show us. Hugely popular locations like the white and blue houses on Santorini, Rue Crémieux in Paris, and the delicate Dutch tulip feels have been getting swarmed by crowds. So, should we stop geotagging on social media?

Crowds with smartphones in Barcelona: should we stop geotagging?
A crowd of tourists in Barcelona (Photo: Ferran Feixas)

Influencer Culture and Selfie Deaths

The answer to that question isn’t as simple as we may think. Of course, nobody will deny that many of these location were already popular before the rise of the smartphone. Previous generations already visited major monuments like the Grand Canyon, Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China. But with the proliferation of social media platforms and the development of mobile photography, one important factor has drastically changed: our behaviour. We no longer go to a place just to see it for ourselves and perhaps take one photo for the family album. Now, hoards of people, including influencers, travel to a place to get that ultimate gram and harvest as many likes and comments as they can.

It’s not just about tourism anymore, it’s about nailing the Instagram aesthetic. People risk dangerous poses to get an epic shot, more than once resulting in ‘selfie deaths‘. Heritage sites are damaged and natural landscapes are trampled on in the hunt for the perfect image.

But that’s not all. The quality of life for local people living near these highly Instagrammable spots is also severely affected. Imagine at least fifteen tourists a day doing yoga poses in front of your front door, just because the houses in your street are painted in pastel colours. This is already a reality for the residents of Rue Crémieux.

When Should We Stop Geotagging?

In the case of overtourism, social media platforms clearly play a key role. Still, people are undeniably the root of the problem. We are those people and a positive change is possible if we consciously change our individual behaviour. Should we stop geotagging entirely, forever and ever? No, of course not. But there are moments where we can cut loose from the hashtag hoard mentality.

Should we stop geotagging entirely, forever and ever? No, of course not. But there are moments when we should cut loose from the hashtag hoard mentality.

So, when should you stop geotagging? Obviously, the superfamous landmarks are already too far gone. Don’t bother untagging the Leaning Tower of Pisa. You’re just a drop in the ocean. But for upcoming Instagram spots, there are a few factors to keep in mind. When you want to post about a place, these are the signs to look out for:

  • Do you already notice smaller groups of other tourists taking pictures?
  • Do you notice people trespassing or even lining up for a specific shot?
  • Is it nearly impossible to take a photo without people in the background bombing your shot?
  • Is it a more private location, like a regular street, that probably doesn’t need more visitors?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, just don’t do it.

Street Art in Leake Street, London (Photo: Clem Onojeghuo)

Geotags Are Not our Enemies

Interestingly though, the geotag might not be the right enemy to start tackling this problem in the first place. Another thing we can do when we notice a place is turning into an Instagram spot, is just not post about the place at all. How important is your photo really, in the grand scheme of things? We could keep that memory and photo to ourselves and, sure, tell our family and friends.

And in case you also found a few other amazing places that could actually benefit from more visitors, post about those instead. Your photo might not be as iconic or recognisable as you originally expected. Too bad. But think about it: you’ll actually be using a social media platform beyond your personal interests. You’ll be contributing to a better balance in the tourism industry while helping local organisations and entrepreneurs.

Instead, post and geotag places that could actually benefit from more visitors. You’ll be contributing to a better balance in the tourism industry while helping local organisations and entrepreneurs.

Who is Responsible for #overtourism?

In the end, I do want to emphasize that the responsibility shouldn’t just fall on the shoulders of online users. Platforms like Instagram certainly amplify the exposure for certain ‘Instaworthy’ locations and are a driving factor behind destructive tourism. So let’s not only look at the user’s responsibility, but also demand structural changes from Facebook, Inc., who ultimately own Instagram.

Moreover, where possible, local governments should work together with tourism boards to respond to overtourism by potentially launching awareness campaigns or taking more drastic measures like introducing a quota or permit system. The incredible damage overtourism can cause to cultural and natural sites, as well as the reduced quality of life for locals, shows us we need to commit to serious change.

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