Instagram has responded to a viral campaign that promised to plant a tree every time someone shared a picture of their pet.

The post began as a sticker that became hugely popular on Monday. It promised that “we’ll plant 1 tree for every pet picture” and included an emoji of a dog.

It quickly flew around Instagram stories, as people shared images of their pets. It has since been shared by more than 4 million people.

Soon it became clear, however, that the sticker was not attributed to any campaign or organisation, and that it did not look likely that any trees would actually be planted – let alone 4 million and counting.

Later, a company called PlantATreeCo took credit for the original post. It claimed that it had started the sticker as a genuine campaign – but realised within 10 minutes that it was likely to prove so popular that it would not be able to honour the commitment to plant trees.

As soon as it realised, the company deleted the sticker. But that simply removed its name from the sticker, rather than deleting the sticker from the site entirely.

That meant that it now had even less context and so there was no way to check whether or not the trees would actually be planted.

Many Instagram users called on the company to plant some trees itself, given the vast amounts of engagement the sticker had generated.

Now Instagram has said that the post demonstrated the power of its platform. But it also distanced itself from it.

“The ‘we’ll plant one tree for every pet picture’ trend shows the power of the Instagram community to raise awareness on important topics,” a spokesperson said.

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

Usually, Instagram stickers do show the creator of the “add yours” sticker when a users clicks on it. But in certain cases that does not happen: the creator can remove their handle manually, or it will automatically disappear if the post is deleted or the account made private.

Instagram indicated that it would be working on a way to make such situations more clear for its users.

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