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.
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.