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FactFind: Who's behind Instagram stickers promising to plant trees in return for pet photos?

Instagram feeds have been flooded with the stickers – but it seems unlikely that many trees will actually be planted as a result.

For general Factchecks not about Covid

This article was updated 12/11/2021 to include responses from Zackaria Saadioui and the New South Wale Rural Fire Service. 

INSTAGRAM FEEDS HAVE been flooded over the last few days with a sticker promising that trees would be planted in return for users posting photographs of their pets to the social media platform.  

Source: Instagram

The viral trend saw users posting photos of their animals accompanied by a sticker with the caption:”We’ll plant one tree for every pet picture”. The sticker, which is a new feature on Instagram, invited users who saw each post to add their own photo of their pet.

By the time of writing it is estimated almost five million people shared the sticker with photos of their furry friends in the expectation of doing some good for the environment. 

These kinds of  ‘like and share’ activism campaigns have been around for several years. In 2019, a small green tree became one of the most-liked Instagram photos of all time when a Canadian sustainable clothing brand promised to plant one tree in West Papua for every ten likes the post received. 

But what about in this case? Will this massive photographic collection of our good boys and girls actually result in the same amount of trees being planted?

The answer is murky.

Firstly, looking at who is actually making the promise to plant the trees: there is no organisation named on the sticker, and Instagram confirmed that it isn’t behind the campaign.

A spokesperson for Meta, Instagram’s parent company, told The Journal that:

“Like all other ‘Add Yours’ sticker threads, it was started by an independent Instagram account – not Instagram.”

Instead the ‘we’ behind ‘We’ll plant one tree for every pet picture’ is a company called Plant A Tree Co.  

The organisation took to their Instagram to say that it was their idea, after initial confusion over who exactly was making the promise to plant these trees. The post said that they had deleted the sticker once it started to be reshared rapidly. 

Source: Instagram

The company, whose main business appears to be selling necklaces, explained:

“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.”

They claim the sticker continued ‘to spread out of control’ and that their company name was removed from the sticker ‘because of what seems like an Instagram bug.’

The Journal understands this is refuted by the social media platform. 

So will my picture of my cat get a tree planted?

That’s a good question. Plant a Tree Co have said that they don’t have the resources to plant the millions of trees required to match the number of pet posts.

Instead, the company has asked its followers to tag famous people, influencers, and Instagram itself, and to donate to a fundraiser it has set up ‘so we can ACTUALLY plant 4 million trees’. 

The company hasn’t explained how the funds are being raised or administered, and its original website had very little information other than the claim they’ve planted 6500 trees so far.

Update: Plant a Tree founder Zack Saadioui responded to The Journal’s questions after publication about how and where these trees were planted. ‘We plant trees through the Edens Reforestation Project,’ he said. He did not specify where but according to its website the Eden Reforestation Project works in Madagascar, Nepal, Haiti, Mozambique, Indonesia, Central America, Kenya and Brazil. 

Plant A Tree Co website (now removed) Source: http://web.archive.org/web/20211109175346/https://www.plantatreeco.com/

Their main commercial activity according to their website seems to be selling necklaces with slogans like Free Spirit and Good Vibes Only. Plant a Tree claim each necklace sold funds the planting of one tree and their website states their goal is to plant a million trees by the end of 2021.

There is some information about the company available online. A search shows their domain name was registered in May 2019 with Florida, America listed as their registrant address. 

Inkedscreenshot-2021-11-10-at-15-30-39-296x279_LI Source: https://opencorporates.com/companies/us_fl/L19000178770

Non-profit business watchdog The Better Business Bureau states the website plantatreeco.com is registered to a company called Plant a Tree LLC. A cross reference with the Florida Department of State Division of Corporations shows the same Boca Raton, Florida as the address of the business.

The agent of the corporation (the person required by law to accepts legal documents for the business) was listed as Zackaria Saadioui. Saadioui is listed as having the same address as the business. 

The only Instagram account that Plant a Tree follows has the username @zjsaadioui and the account name Zack Saaidioui.

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@plantatreeco followers

The 23-year-old describes himself online as ‘a computer science major with a minor in innovation from the University of Florida with a background in entrepreneurship.’

An Instagram with his name says that he is the founder of Plant a Tree, as well as another parking business called Prked. According to records he was removed as officer of Plant a Tree last year.

Back in 2019 he claimed in a YouTube presentation that he makes $5,300 (around €4,600) a month through several different methods. He describes e-commerce ‘as the simplest and cheapest possible way to start a business’ and stresses the importance of marketing. 

“Without marketing you will never succeed in this racket,” he says. 

According to the Better Business Bureau, four complaints have been made to them about Plant a Tree including a customer paying but not receiving an item, long shipping times and the company not responding to emails.

The company has previous form in promising to take action in return for users helping its posts to go viral. In 2020, it promised to donate one dollar to the Rural Fire Service in New South Wales in Australia during one of the worst bushfire seasons in the country on record, for every one hundred people who followed and reposted the company’s post. 

The company claimed it donated $3,000 (€1,950) to the RFS. However, the posts promising to donate the money are no longer on its Instagram feed. The Journal contacted the RFS who verified that it did receive a donation but did not specify how much. Update: Mr Saaidioui responded to The Journal with a copy of a receipt of a donation made to the RFS from Plant A Tree to the sum of $3,173

 Zack Saaidioui responded to NBCnews.com about online scepticism around the business ‘creating trends around false promises.’ 

“I understand where they’re coming from, as we have made unintentional mistakes in the past,” Saadioui said. “We addressed it, stopped the post and stated that it would be impossible to plant.”

At the time of writing the Plant a Tree Co’s Instagram claims that it has raised €25,473 out of its €866,620 goal in its fundraiser to help plant trees. 

After publishing our original Fact Find, Zack Saadioui responded to The Journal’s inquiries about where the trees were being planted and how the money was being held. 

He told us via email ‘Although we clearly can’t plant 4 million trees, we want to use this opportunity and awareness to do some good, so we created an Instagram fundraiser that is raising money for @treesforthefuture, an organization that we really like that plants trees. We don’t touch any of the money, it is completely handled by Instagram through the Instagram fundraiser.’

 

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

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