5 Alarming Things You Should Know about Instagram
Unless you live under a rock or just came from a convent, you know what Instagram is.
Instagram is the online photo-sharing arguably at the top of the social media empire. It is owned by Facebook and is a fantastic place to post interesting photos that illustrate your life—like a daily visual journal! On Instagram, you can find drool-worthy food shots, artsy-type photos, and fun pictures of your friends and family. We love Instagram!
But sadly, there are people out there who try to corrupt a good thing. A few days ago, I got a tiny red “friend request” alert in my Instagram account. I clicked on the picture of someone named Megan (I know lots of Megans) to see how I knew her and instantly wished I hadn’t. This account was a porn site luring people in by seemingly innocent means. You can’t un-see pictures like that.
And so, for all of us who love Instagram and wish to use it correctly and want our children to be able to enjoy it without harm, here are a few alarming things you should know.
5 Alarming Things You Must Know about Instagram
1. Your account is set to “Public” by default.
Unless you change it in your Instagram settings, your account and your children’s accounts will automatically be set to “public.” This means every photograph you post of yourself and your children can be accessed by anyone trolling the internet, including identity thieves and pedophiles. And even more alarming, your location can be easily added as well.
Make sure when setting up your account or helping your child set up his account that you turn on the privacy setting. In your Instagram settings, make sure your photos are set to post as private—to your Instagram friends only, and not public. For safety purposes, avoid posting your location.
2. Instagram beauty pageants
A current trend on Instagram that parents should be aware of right now are beauty and ugly pageants. This new form of cyber-bullying involves teens (mostly girls) posting photos of themselves using hashtags like #beautycontest or #rateme. This is alarming on several fronts. First, if photos are public, these young girls are exposing themselves to online predators. Second, these “beauty pageant” contestants are subjecting themselves to unrealistic criticisms, praises, and even poisonous ridicule. And perhaps the most disheartening to parents, what are these online pageants teaching our kids about beauty?
“Winners” are the photos with the most likes, “losers” get a big fat X through their picture. Makes me want to cry just thinking just thinking about it.
3. Porn gets through.
Despite Instagram’s terms which state that users should be at least 13 years of age and that no users are allowed to post nude, partially nude, or sexually suggestive photos, pornography is still getting through.
As illustrated by my experience above, many Instagram users stumble upon porn accidentally through a seemingly innocent friend request. Sadly, it is most often men and young men who are targeted by Instagram pornography requests. In a recent conversation with a friend, she was at her wits end with all of these types of friend requests her young 13-year-old son was getting. Luckily, he always approached his mom every time he got a new friend request, but she was shocked by how often these “friends” were simply porn sites in disguise.
What can you do? Not much besides block that user from your profile and report the content to Instagram. The best thing you can do…don’t accept friend requests from anyone you don’t personally know. Don’t even click on the picture to find out.
4. Beware of dangerous hashtags.
Hashtags are a great way to categorize your pictures on Instagram. Say you write include the hashtag #JonesFamilyTrip in your photos of your summer vacation. Everyone in your family can see those photos and add their own using the same hashtag. This is an excellent way to share photographs.
But be aware that there are some pretty dangerous hashtags out there that can lead you and your children to pornography, violent photos, and sites that promote suicide, self-harm, and eating disorders. In fact, the hashtags #Ana and #Sue aren’t girls names at all, they are code for anorexia and suicide. Clicking on or doing a search for these hashtags can lead you to photos encouraging self destruction. Be aware that there are plenty of other dangerous hashtags like:
- #drivingselfie– encouraging users to take a photo of themselves while driving and then posting to Instagram.
- #thinspiration– users post photos of dramatic weight loss and extreme thinness
- #cat– this hashtag refers to cutting oneself,
- #selfharmmm- the hashtag used to glorify destructive habits like cutting, burning, and hurting oneself.
5. Direct messaging
For more private conversations, you can use Instagram direct messaging. This is a little mailbox in the top right corner of your home screen. Through Instagram instant messaging, you can send a private message to one or several of your friends, and they can then respond on the same feed. This is great for conversations that the whole Instagram world doesn’t need to know, but it can lead to some unsavory secrets in younger users.
Direct messaging is a hot spot for cyber bullying, posting inappropriate pictures, and gossiping behind someone’s back. Parents don’t see these exchanges by simply “following” their child on Instagram. To stay aware of your child’s full Instagram activity, log into their account every once in a while and check their direct messages.
The bottom line is this: Instagram is the bomb.com. We love it for it’s artistic and journaling value. We love seeing inspiring photographs that make us happy, that make us think, and that make us hungry. Instagram can be a fun experience for your kids too, with a few safety precautions. Knowing what’s out there is the best way to help your child navigate safely through an ever changing and rapidly growing world of social media.
As with everything out there, be safe, be present, and use the good old common sense you were born with.