On January 29th, as part of the ITA Trail Master Presentation Series, board member Pam Bond and Leave No Trace Ambassador Evan Worthington discussed the potential impacts, good and bad, of sharing our outdoor experiences through social media like Facebook and Instagram.  Those who attended had varying opinions about how outdoor enthusiasts should share their experiences, from “don’t share anything!” to “you should share everything!”. We think the sweet spot is probably somewhere in between and believe it really just comes down to being thoughtful about what and how you share information through social media.

In 2018, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics was so concerned about the role social media was playing in the publicity of our beloved wild places that they considered adding another LNT Principle. “If outdoor enthusiasts stop and think about the potential impacts and associated consequences of a particular action, it can go a long way towards ensuring the protection of our shared outdoor spaces,” says Leave No Trace. “To that end, we encourage outdoor enthusiasts to stop and think about their actions and the potential consequences of posting pictures, GPS data, detailed maps, etc. to social media.” Instead of adding an eighth principle, they came up with a set of guidelines specific to social media:

Think Before You Geotag– consider before tagging (or geotagging) specific locations. Depending on the specifics of the area, you may choose to tag a general location if any at all. Learning the location’s history can also inform your choice. By doing so, people viewing your photo may do some research about the area, and hopefully encounter Leave No Trace information.

Be Mindful of What Your Images Portray – give some thought to what your images may encourage others to do. Images that demonstrate good Leave No Trace practices and stewardship, as well as obeying safety regulations, increase the likelihood that others will emulate this behavior. Be mindful of the platform you have and the people you reach when posting and commenting about the outdoors.

Encourage and Inspire Leave No Trace in Social Media Posts – given the millions of social media users in the world, think of the incredible potential that social media has to educate outdoor enthusiasts, no matter what their background in the outdoors, about enjoying our wild lands responsibly. Invite people into the conversation and try not to make assumptions about their Leave No Trace Ethics.

Give Back to Places You Love – invest your time into the outdoor spaces and places you care about. Learn about volunteer stewardship opportunities and get involved in the protection of our shared lands.

Shaming Is Not the Answer — Remember that everyone’s experience in the outdoors is unique and personal. Online shaming and bullying in the name of Leave No Trace is never endorsed by the Center nor is it effective in terms of influencing choices in the outdoors. Instead, spread awareness of Leave No Trace by engaging in respectful and meaningful conversations on social media about stewardship of the outdoors.

“Leave No Trace isn’t black or white, right or wrong,” the group writes. “It’s a framework for making good decisions about enjoying the outdoors responsibly, regardless of how one chooses to do so. If outdoor enthusiasts stop and think about the potential impacts and associated consequences of a particular action, it can go a long way towards ensuring protection of our shared outdoor spaces.Presentation slides are available at https://bit.ly/33hYpvL.