Millions of people posted pictures of their pets to their Instagram stories in early November because of an “Add Yours” sticker that promised: “We’ll plant one tree for every pet sticker.”
An “Add Yours” sticker lets users add a small icon to a photo posted to their story – a temporary upload that disappears after 24 hours – that links it with other posts using the sticker and gives the originator of the sticker notifications for each use. Typically, the account the sticker comes from is linked to the sticker. This particular sticker was shared more than 4 million times.
But by the time most of the people participating had seen the sticker and posted their pet pictures, the account originally behind the sticker campaign was no longer attached to the sticker itself. And with no name to the mysterious “we” behind the campaign and millions of pet pictures racking up, social media users began to worry the trees wouldn’t be planted after all.
Will a tree be planted for every pet picture posted to Instagram in the viral sticker campaign?
No. The only account that has claimed credit for starting the campaign confirmed it didn’t have the resources to plant 4 million trees.
WHAT WE FOUND
Instagram showed no originator for the sticker campaign when most people first came across it, making it unclear who exactly promised to plant the trees. Still, Instagram users continued to share their pet pictures, and eventually, the sticker reached 4 million shares.
Soon after, the Plant a Tree Co Instagram account claimed credit as the sticker’s originator. The account said it attempted to delete the sticker but only succeeded in removing its credit for originating it.
“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,” Plant a Tree Co said in an Instagram post.
Since it didn’t have the resources to plant millions of trees, Plant a Tree Co said it would instead begin a fundraiser for Trees for the Future, a charity organization that plants trees as part of agroforestry campaigns.
While Instagram fundraisers send money directly to the organizations they benefit, Trees for the Future said it has no affiliation with Plant a Tree Co. In an Instagram story, Trees for the Future encouraged people to donate to it directly through its website rather than through the fundraiser.
“Trees for the Future is not affiliated with Plant a Tree Co,” Trees for the Future said in an emailed statement. “When the fundraiser came to our attention, we immediately reached out to the group asking them to clarify the nature of the fundraiser and we reported the post to Instagram.”
The Plant a Tree Co website has existed since at least Sept. 2020 as a store for necklaces, claiming to plant a tree for every necklace sold. Archives from Sept. 2020 show the website claimed to have planted “6,500+” trees by then.
Plant a Tree Co’s store is a dropshipping store, a kind of shop that purchases products from a third-party seller to ship directly to the customer, never handling the product being sold itself. All of Plant a Tree Co’s necklaces were “discounted” from $30 to $0, with users instead paying for shipping fees that neared $10. Its necklaces were the exact same available from many sellers on AliExpress, which often sold them for less than Plant a Tree Co when both the cost of the item and of shipping were taken into account.
Plant a Tree Co’s website remained mostly unchanged by Nov. 9, 2021, according to internet archive records. That includes the count of trees the store had planted: 6,500+. But on Nov. 10, 2021, Plant a Tree Co removed references to the 6,500+ trees it previously claimed to have planted, instead highlighting its Instagram fundraisers and donations.
On Nov. 11, 2021, the Plant a Tree Co website changed once again. It removed the necklaces from its store page, leaving no items remaining, and once again added the reference to the 6,500+ trees it claims to have planted — this time with a link to an Eden Reforestation Projects page as proof.
Eden Reforestation Projects is a charity that employs people to plant trees in their local communities and tracks the number of trees a person’s donation has helped plant on user profile pages. Plant a Tree Co’s Eden Reforestation page shows its donations have amounted to planting 6,500 trees exactly.
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