Instagram is awesome — so awesome, in fact, it ranks in the top two social networks among teens. (Snapchat is #1, Twitter #3, and Facebook #4). But like every social network, it changes from time to time.
Some recent changes to Instagram that may boost its safety, include nixing the geo Photo Map feature and adding Instagram Stories.
Elimination of the photo mapping feature will take away the ability for anyone to zoom in on the location (the street address) where a users’ photos were taken. Instagram said in a statement, “Photo Map was not widely used, so we’ve decided to remove the feature and focus on other priorities.” We say “yay Instagram!” because disclosing exact location is never, ever a good idea for minors or any other user for that matter. We never liked this feature.
The other change is the addition of the Instagram Stories feature. The Stories feature allows users to post and creatively embellish photos (or 10-second videos) that will disappear in 24 hours. Like Snapchat, it’s fun, it’s creative, and it’s temporary. It’s also easy to use.
The wins: A big positive is that Instagram Stories may catch on with teens and woo them from Snapchat, which can be a difficult social network for parents to monitor. Another positive is that Instagram Stories are casual and imperfect unlike the carefully curated images of Instagram that can encourage perfection and impossible standards in teens. The downside: Kids can use the “blocking” feature on stories to block certain content from parents who follow them and, they might think the 24-hour disappearing feature will allow them to post riskier photos. Also, unlike Snapchat, Instagram Stories does not alert you if someone takes a screenshot. Don’t forget to monitor stories (along with the next six areas of Instagram).
6 things to monitor on Instagram
- Tone and intention of comments. The comment section below a photo post is often overlooked by parents. But this is where potential cyberbullying, insults, indication of self-harm (see #4 below), or unwise (or links) intentions will be divulged. The more you read, the more you will understand tone, intent, and potential red flags. Kids often forget the global broadcast system of Instagram. Impulsive teens will post their phone numbers asking friends to text them, their addresses asking for a ride somewhere, and a Kik address. Also, check their profile information for Kik Messenger and Tumblr URLs, two social networks we strongly advise against kids using.
- Beware of ‘like’ addiction. Instagram is a 24/7 popularity poll for tweens and teens. If a photo gets a hefty amount of likes a teen can feel affirmed and worthy and if a photo
tanks — he or she might take that very personally. Coach your teen and help him or her cultivate a healthy perspective and strong sense of worth outside of flimsy cyber walls.
- Privacy settings. Your teen’s photos and videos will appear in Instagram’s public feed if his or her account is not set to private. So be sure to check her settings (it’s easy and takes less than a minute) as well as his or her friend list.
- Use of hashtags. When a hashtag (#) is used that hashtag can be searched on Instagram and your child’s photo can show up in anyone’s feed if your child’s account isn’t private. That means strangers who share similar interests (called out with a hashtag) may connect with your child. Alarming Hashtags: Some Instagrammers disguise the intensity and danger of a post by using hashtags such as #ana, #thinspro (anorexia), #nsfw #XXX #Instasex #kiksex (sexually suggestive or explicit images) #sue, #secretsociety123 (suicide/self-harm), #bodycheck, #ed (eating disorder), #cutting #self-harm (cutting oneself), #dv (domestic violence), #abuse (sexual abuse). Be sure to look for these red flags on your child’s account and in any of her connections.
- Direct messages (DMs). If your child’s Instagram feed looks too good to be true, take a few more steps. You may find that she has a whole other group of friends in her Instagram inbox. Much like email or chat, Instagram direct simply allows users to chat behind the public feed.
- Instagram Direct (IM). Instagram Direct is different than a Direct message. Instagram Direct allows anyone, including people you don’t follow, to send you an image or video that only you and up to 14 other people can see or comment on. Much of these ID messages are unsolicited sales pitches, but some can be pornographic in nature and prey on a tween or teen’s curiosity and sense of identity. If you follow that person, the image will be sent to your Instagram Direct folder. If you don’t follow the person, it’ll arrive in a Request folder, and that person’s Instagrams will keep going to your Requests folder until you approve that person. Unfortunately, to ignore all future Instagram Direct messages from a particular user, you’ll have to have the photo or video open that they sent you — not good for minors.
Social networks are not inherently dangerous; it’s the reckless and crude ways people decide to use the networks that create the risk for kids. If your child is spending a ton of time on Instagram, this Parents Guide to Instagram is a very useful read and will cut your learning curve in half.
What problems has your family run into with Instagram? Please share.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @SafeEyes. (Disclosures).