Like me, you probably saw a mysterious sticker in your friend’s Instagram Stories last week that said “we’ll plant one tree for every pet picture” on top of a picture of their adorable dog. Unlike me, you are probably not an unemployed freelance journalist on the autism spectrum with too much time on your hands, a sick dog, and a compulsive habit of reaction “but how tho” to everything.
What followed was my 24-hour deep dive into a seemingly innocuous social media trend. What it revealed was a Gen Z long con: a scheme to sell dropshipped 20 cent necklaces, a “Airbnb of parking” app and a classic data grab. Behind it is Zack Saadioui, a 23-year-old computer tech grad in Florida.
After its sticker was shared around an estimated four million times, Plant A Tree Co – a company founded by Saadioui in 2019 – held their hands up and said they were responsible for the trend. On their Instagram account, they said that they could not possibly plant the millions of trees promised, but that it had started a fundraiser – currently hovering around £22,300 – to plant as many as possible.
Mainstream media coverage, including ABC News and NBC News, responded along the lines of: “it got out of hand, ha ha”, with some even going so far as to direct readers to the fundraiser. “We simply wanted to check out a new Instagram sticker and thought we’d use it in a fun way that can benefit the environment. So we made the post not really understanding how ‘Add…