Whoa! Instagram has 1 billion monthly users.
For any of you who know me, numbers help me make sense of important things. It’s the way I’m wired. Left-brained all the way! With that in mind, I would like to share a few numbers that might help us understand the impact of Instagram on culture (and kids):
- 1 billion = total number of monthly, active users.
- 40 billion = total photos uploaded to date (that’s 170/second since inception in October 2010).
- 20% = the number of all Internet users who also use Instagram (let that sink in).
- 68% = the % of Instagram users who are female.
Whether you care about numbers or not, those four figures carry significant weight for parents as they consider whether or not their son or daughter should be using this social media platform*. We have written a complete Instagram profile that covers all of the app’s basic functionality, but for this blog post, I want to focus on one specific aspect of Instagram.
Instagram has a porn problem.
*Because Instagram is social media, according to COPPA, all users must be at least 13, but keep reading to see if you agree that 13 is the right age for using the app.
What is “Instaporn?” Is that a real thing?
With over 700 million daily users, it’s impossible for Instagram to police all of its content for compliance with its Community Guidelines, which state:
“We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.”
Instagram does not enforce these guidelines. We proved it through our testing of reporting images over the summer, which had no impact on the amount of porn found under certain hashtags.
There is a complete playbook for finding pornography on Instagram because both the users and the producers know that as soon as one photo is flagged as “inappropriate,” 10 more are quickly added to the site. The word “Instaporn” is well-known among those who desire to see inappropriate things. In fact, pornographers even seem to be getting in front of potential artificial intelligence being created to detect skin tones by shading pornography to avoid detection (here’s an example).
How easy is it to find porn on Instagram?
Some porn is available in around six clicks, which is too easy.
- Instaporn emoji tags – inappropriate content can be found using an array of suggestive emojis, including the????? (guy part),????? (girl part), ????? (wet),????? (must be 18 to view),????? (hot), ???? ???? (naughty/nice), and all of their variants.
- Keyword search – over the years, I’ve noticed that Instagram has become more lax by allowing use of obviously inappropriate keywords like “sex.” From time-to-time, Instagram will temporarily block a keyword like “boobs,” but endless variants quickly surface (e.g., boobz, booooobs, etc.) that fool the block. Some of the worst content on Instagram is found under hashtags in foreign languages (pörno, pörn, séxy, etc.). This is where Instagram’s autocomplete is a porn-seeker’s best friend. Even non-obvious words that can have a double inappropriate connotation easily and quickly bring up what would at least be classified as soft porn. And, it can be done in six, quick clicks (<5 seconds):
- Search for porn using Tumblr – Instagram’s blog (accessed through “Options”) allows access to Tumblr, which is rated 17+ in the app store and full of porn. We’ve written about this in our Tumblr app profile. And, although Tumblr has decided to remove most of its porn as of December 17, 2018, there’s still plenty.
We did a news segment with WOOD TV8 in Grand Rapids, to inform parents about this issue. Sadly, there are entire blog posts written with instructions for finding the best porn on Instagram. Clearly, the leaders of Instagram could be doing more to stem the flow of lewd content. But, they aren’t, which means parents need to step in!
Even Forbes magazine picked up on our summer 2018 Instagram testing and carried our findings into their blog post about Instagram’s porn problem.
Is Instagram safe for kids?
The objective of this blog post isn’t to compel every parent to grab their child’s device and smash it with a hammer. That won’t teach the child how to use technology well. But, it is intended to show parents click-by-click how kids are using these apps and how these apps are potential fuel for temptation in a very critical area – sex and sexuality.
My short answer to the question, “is Instagram safe for kids?” is “no, I do not believe Instagram is safe for most kids under age 16.”
Most just aren’t ready for the situations and temptations this particular social media platform presents to kids. Not to mention the self-image damage that can result in the hearts of young girls resulting from their constant comparisons to Instagram’s steady stream of perfect pictures.
This isn’t a popular stance and I’m equally hard on Snapchat.
Parents, I can only share information. I can’t make decisions for you. So, now the choice is yours. Keep Instagram or not? That’s up to you. I believe parents who are observant, engaged, and informed often have kids who learn to use technology well. And, by reading this post, you have taken a huge step. But, don’t stop now. Please do something.
Q: What if my child has had Instagram for years? Do I just take it away now that I’m more informed?
A: Maybe, but maybe not. We’ve written about this exact question in our popular post, What’s the Right Age to Give My Kid Social Media, which might help you answer this question for your specific situation.
Q: Are there parental controls I can use on Instagram to prevent the issues above?
A: No, not related to inappropriate content. Nothing! But, the BARK Parental Control app is proving very effective at helping parents monitor their child’s Instagram activity, assuming you know all of their accounts.
Q: Based on what I’ve read, I don’t want my kid to have Instagram at all, even if they’re over 15. Is that ok?
A: Of course it is. I’m in full support of parents who decide their kids just don’t need the app at all. But, here’s what I say to those parents. Go ahead and tell them that they can’t have Instagram, but teach them about it as if they did have it. Look them in the eye, and say, “I’ve decided that based on the risks, we aren’t going to use Instagram in our home. That’s right, no account. Now, I know you could go behind my back and create an account of your own, but that’s not allowed. And, if you do (and I’ll ask you if you have often), the consequences will be [insert].”
Q: Chris, I’m freaking out. Paralyzed, actually. My kid has Instagram. What do I need to do right now?
A: Take a deep breath. Good. Now, I have some homework for you. But, you have to commit to finishing everything in this list within 48 hours. Ready?
- Have a good conversation with your child – sit down when they seem receptive, and be very, very honest. Possible words include, “Honey, I have to admit that I may have allowed you to use Instagram without knowing much about it. But, I’ve done some homework, and now I know more. Did you know that today, 700 million different people will use Instagram? I need to do a better job protecting you from things that those 700 million people might do…..” and then take it from there. Talk specifically about porn and your stance on the issue. Talk specifically about hiding activity in fake accounts, and your stance on the issue. Say specifically, “I could download spy software that monitors your every click, but I don’t want to do that, so don’t give me a reason. Instead, we’re going to use something like [Bark, etc.] to help keep you safe.”
- Read this blog post about overall social media considerations. It’s possible you decide that they shouldn’t have social media at all. That’s ok.
- Decide how you are going to monitor your child’s Instagram activity. That likely includes a combination of flipping through their account and using a service like Bark to monitor app activity. When we say “flipping through their account,” that means (1) following their main account, (2) going through their followers and following lists, looking for anything unusual, and (3) checking for fake accounts. For instructions on how to do (2) and (3), read this blog post.
- If you’re a Christian, pray specifically for the heart and mind of your child. Use Psalm 119:37, if you need a place to begin. Replace “my” with the name of your child. Remember, the enemy is a prowling lion, looking for someone to devour.
You can do this! I’m rooting for you.
Now what? Have you heard of Bark?
Are you interested in having greater insight into the social media platforms that your kids are using? Bark is one of the best platforms we’ve tested. They’re constantly looking for ways to dig further into apps like Instagram, to keep parents of the information that matters. We trust them and we think you should, too!
*There are affiliate links throughout this post because we’ve tested and trust a small list of parental control solutions. Our work saves you time! If you decide that you agree with us, then we may earn a small commission, which does nothing to your price. Enjoy!
I love life. Seriously! Each. Day. A. Gift. Former CPA, business advisor, youth pastor, development director. Manage marketing efforts for Covenant Eyes and CEO of PYE. God shares wild ideas with me about life while I run. I have a relentless drive to help families use technology well.