By Dave Helgeson
Due to the pandemic, more people than ever are heading outdoors to hike, camp and/or escape urban craziness. Thanks to geotagging, it is also easier than ever to find that secret place to get away. In this entry we will look at what geotagging is and if geotagging it ruining nature.
What is geotagging?
Caliper.com lists the following definition: “Geotagging refers to the attaching of geographic coordinate information to images, video, and other media recorded by smartphones or GPS-enabled electronic devices.”
Is geotagging ruining nature?
Many believe geotagging is ruining nature, as it allows people to easily find the location of those “secret” places shown on photos posted by others via Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms. “Influencers” often have a large number of social media followers who inevitably (“sadly,” in my opinion) look up to them in social media to guide them with their decision-making, including where they should go and what they should see. This can send thousands of people to a location that typically had only been visited by fewer than a hundred in the past. Even geotagged photos posted by you and me can increase visitation to our favorite places.
“While location tagging your campsite may seem harmless, it can cause a lot more damage than you might think. Even if you only have 300 followers, a geotag still shows up for everyone, and if you also use hashtags and a large account shares your photo, it can potentially reach millions of people.” —Elisabeth Brentano
Camper Elisabeth Brentano also posts on her blog, “When we share a photo on social media, we can’t monitor who it reaches, and a lack of knowledge (or worse yet, a blatant disregard for the rules), can ruin some of our favorite campsites, trails and parks.” Is geotagging ruining nature? Based on the balance of Elisabeth’s blog entry, she would say, yes!
RVers are negatively affected also
It is not just backpackers and hikers that are experiencing overuse of areas that have been posted or geotagged online. Amanda from Watsons Wander recently blogged concerning returning to a favorite camping spot after an extended absence. “Fast forward seven years from our first visit and oh man have things changed. The meadow area where we first stayed now has a road at the top where RVs park in a line, the lower meadow (which was inaccessible to RVs in both 2013 & 2014) has another road that RVs park along, and the area across the street where we stayed in 2014 has expanded tenfold.” Does Amanda think geotagging is ruining nature? Read the balance of the blog post to find out.
As Elisabeth pointed out in her blog, “lack of knowledge and a blatant disregard for the rules” has become all too common as people are lured to the outdoors in part by enticing geotagged photos. RVTravel.com recently published a blog post written by Suzanne Anthony about how the coordinates found online for an idyllic place to camp led to the area being overrun and trashed by those that weren’t taught any better and/or have no respect for the rules or nature. Are online posts and geotagging ruining nature? Many would say “yes” based on this entry.
Sadly, there is also a toll on human life as inexperienced people with “lack of knowledge” are lured into nature by alluring photos never to return as they lacked the basic resources and safety knowledge including the Ten Essentials. Search and Rescue groups across the country are reporting a significant increase in calls this year and sadly some end up as recoveries or worse yet some haven’t been found, their bodies left to scavengers and the elements. How would they answer if asked, “Is geotagging ruining nature?” Unfortunately, we will never know!
What to do about it?
While I suspect few readers of RVTravel.com are guilty of trashing camping areas or hiking trails, there are some things you can do to help:
- Teach others to respect the rules, the land and fellow users. Start with your children and grandchildren, then move on to friends and spread the word on social media.
- Turn off the geotagging feature on your iPhone and other devices to avoid being part of the problem. Here is a short YouTube video on how to turn on/off GPS Geotagging on your iPhone and iPad.
- Avoid listing the exact location (via description or coordinates) when you post pictures of your secret places online. When asked by trusted friends, you may disclose the location at your discretion.
- Suggest friends and family not geotag favorite locations. This includes secret campsites, pristine natural areas, your favorite uncrowded restaurant, or where you might have come across a large herd of elk (poachers would love to know).
- When you view a social media photo of someone abusing the rules either willfully or by “lack of knowledge,” gently point out their error. Example, if someone posts a picture of a campfire where campfires aren’t allowed, you could post a comment such as this: “Greetings, just a note to point out campfires aren’t allowed in that area. You probably missed seeing the signs or rules online. I would hate for you to get a ticket or encourage others to break the rules. It would be great if you removed this image from this site.” If it is a flagrant violation, just forward the image to law enforcement.
- Practice “Pack it in, Pack it out” and clean up an area trashed by someone less thoughtful.
Is geotagging ruining nature? If you are still undecided, read this article from The New York Times and let me know your thoughts using the comment box below.