Oct. 1, 2016 Update: a current trend among young Instagram users is to maintain multiple accounts. “Finstas” is a general name for fake Instagram accounts, but “spam” accounts are a particular type of finsta that parents should know about. Read more here!
Nov. 21, 2016 Update: Instagram now has disappearing live video and messages in order to keep pace with its primary rival, Snapchat.
Description: Instagram is a simple way to capture and share photos and videos with friends, utilizing a variety of custom photo filters to enhance and beautify life’s moments. Instagram is probably the most popular “social media doorway” for young people because most parents perceive it to be the lowest risk since “it’s just pictures.” Recent updates to release its “stories” feature with fun customizations make the app even more appealing as it goes head-to-head with Snapchat.
Category: Social Media
APP Store rating: 12+ (“infrequent/mild alcohol, tobacco, drug, mature/suggestive themes, profanity or crude humor, sexual content and nudity,” etc.), although users are supposed to be at least 13 years old in order to comply with the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which applies to websites and online services that collect personal information.
Porn – Because it’s built on pictures and videos, there is plenty of pornographic content. Yes, straight-up porn is very easy to find, and very easily hidden by erasing search history. See our 2015 blog post: InstaPORN.
Self-esteem Killer – This app can have significant impacts on the self-esteem of young girls, who see what perfectly posed photos gain the most attention, and fall victim to comparing themselves to others. Comments posted by others can be affirming or damaging.
Minimal Controls – The Instagram app can’t be monitored with conventional web filters and is not stopped by OpenDNS. If you want to monitor your child’s Instagram activity, you should know their username and password, be their “follower” and make it clear that you are watching.
Set the account settings to “private”. This makes would-be followers ask permission to follow, and only allows followers to see posts (instead of the general Instagram public). NOTE: even if your child has a “private” account, that only protects his or her identity from an unapproved follower. It does not prevent him/her from searching and finding all kinds of trash, and since it’s so easy to erase search history, you will never know.
Guard Location – is it possible for strangers to see the location where your child snaps photos? With a public profile, YES. The default setting on Instagram’s photo maps is set to “OFF,” but it’s very easy to change. Learn how to control location settings here!
Unfiltered Internet Access! We recently discovered that users can gain access to unfiltered internet searches in Google, Bing, and Yahoo through the Instagram Blog, which has a link to Twitter at the very bottom. When you click on it, you’re instantly taken to Instagram’s Twitter page, still within the Instagram app. Now, perform a search at the top for Google, Bing or Yahoo’s Twitter page, and on each, you’ll find a link to “google.com”, “bing.com” or “yahoo.com” where you can click and search (again, still within Instagram). It’s obscure, and teens would have to work pretty hard to identify this hole, but it’s there and parents need to know.
Sub-apps: Instagram also allows access to Tumblr. Users just click on their user profile (the icon on the bottom furthest to the right), then the settings gear top right, then click “Blog” towards the bottom. A link to Tumblr is waiting at the top of the Blog, where you can find an endless assortment of porn.
Instagram is on the front lines of cyberbullying, and parents often miss the signs. Some bullying is overt, through malicious posts. But, sometimes, it’s below the surface and hard to detect. This is often done through fake accounts (called “Finstas“), by commenting on pictures, or by excluding someone from being tagged on a group photo.
Due to COPPA, we discourage younger middle school usage, but from a practical perspective, we know that many parents are going to allow it. Parents just need to know the risks and understand that it does have a very dark side in terms of content and potential impact on self-image if left unmonitored. We just do not believe Instagram is the right way for any middle schooler to start his/her adventure into social media.
If you want extra assurance, then the Bark solution can monitor for inappropriate words used in Instagram, sending alerts to parents. Pretty cool (if you now all of their Instagram accounts!)!