Instagram influencers are using hashtags about the devastating California wildfires to promote products

A plane drops fire retardant behind homes along McVicker Canyon Park Road in California. (Mark Rightmire via Getty Images)

  • Many people have used Instagram to post photos of the devastating wildfires in Northern and Southern California, which have left at least 84 people dead.
  • Many Instagram influencers have used hashtags related to the event to promote unrelated products.
  • Using keywords or hashtags related to breaking news events to gain views is not a totally new phenomenon.

A slew of Instagram influencers are using the devastating California wildfires to promote products and make money.

Multiple users have been referencing the wildfires in Northern and Southern California or using related hashtags to post unrelated photos of themselves, and tagging their posts with brands they are sponsoring.

Photos of the fires’ devastating aftermath, which can be found under hashtags including #californiafires, #woolseyfire, and #malibufires, all appear alongside ads for various products.

“Like and Subscribe,” a TV show that parodies influencers, and BuzzFeed both pointed out the phenomenon this week.

View this post on Instagram

A T T A C H M E N T ~ Can you give without expecting anything in return? Can you enjoy the moment without making it a means to an end? One of the most challenging aspects in relationships is the constant tally “If I do this for you then you will do this for me, right?” It is this kind of thinking that sets us up for disappointment. How many times have you given a gift and have received nothing in return? Our egos drive us to do things in order to get something out of it. If we let go of the need to be rewarded would our relationships be more authentic and filled with less obligation? Absolutely. The Malibu fires were life changing for me. In an earlier post I shared the feeling of security I received due to the connection to human beings and the need to survive. It also shed light on what stops me from my own joy. Yesterday when a situation was going from shitty to shittier I realized I could take my usual route and stop openly giving and loving because I was fearful I would not receive anything in return. Or, take a new route and give without any expectation. Vulnerably loving. I let go of the attachment of what I wanted and watched it sail away into the distance. Moments later I was filled gratitude. Actual real gratitude. For a situation only moments before completely sucked. How is this possible!? Thanksgiving is always focused on being grateful for what you have, have, have. I have this and this and this and this and this and this and wow I am so lucky. I’ve seen so many people struggling with attachments. Being attached to a dream, a house, a relationship, an expected outcome. Tomorrow, when you have a moment to yourself, see if you can view the attachments in your mind (not your email) that possess you. Could you let them go? Why is this a powerful meditation? Because it is your attachment that will always hold you back from living in the present. Always. The ability to perform as a human being without holding tight to attachments will be the currency of the future. #empowerment #YouAreEnough #thanksgiving

A post shared by V E R I D A T T A (@veridattacollection) on

For example, @destinationvine, a company that offers private wine country tours in California, posted a photo of a bottle of wine to promote “Wine Wednesday,” while using the #malibufire tag.

Skincare company @veridattacollection also posted a caption alongside the #malibufire tag saying that the “Malibu fires were life chaging for me,” while linking to a photographer and the company’s brand account in the post.

@_earn_with_emily, an account dedicated to bitcoin, used 19 hashtags containing the word “california” — including #californiafires, #californahighwaypatrol, and #californiatattoos — to advertise bitcoin mining in a Thursday post.

Using trending hashtags to promote products is not a new phenomenon. Many people on platforms like Twitter and Instagram have used keywords and hashtags related to breaking news events — like terror attacks — to sell their products and post unrelated content in the past.

This is called “keyword squatting,” BuzzFeed reported, citing researcher Joan Donovan. It “in a sense is free marketing,” Donovan said. “If you’re selling a product beyond just yourself, it could translate into cash.”

Business Insider has contacted Instagram for comment.

The death toll from the Camp Fire in Northern California, and the Woolsey Fire in Southern California, rose to 84 on Wednesday night. Around 990 people remain missing.

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