The Good, The Bad, and The Iffy of Instagram

Instagram is a popular app that boasts 100 million monthly users worldwide. It’s fun and useful, but it does pose some problems and dangers for young users. Here’s what parents need to know about it.

First the good news…

Instagram bills itself this way: “Fast beautiful photo sharing.” Users can upload photos from their library or they can post a new photo instantly. Special effects are on offer to enhance the look of the photo. The user can link their account to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. You can follow other users and like and comment on photos. The content of your photo stream depends on who you follow–family and friends to pop stars and photographers.

 

Now for the potential issues:

Buckle your seatbelts, parents. There’s a lot to cover…

Privacy Settings

Default privacy settings are public, meaning any Instagram user in the world can follow you and see your photos. Once privacy is enabled, a follow request must be approved before a user can see your photos. To enable privacy settings, go to the Edit Profile page and slide the privacy toggle ON. By doing this the user is choosing to approve followers, which is important. This is how you decide who can see your photos.

The trouble is many young people equate the number of followers with popularity. In the quest for lots of “likes” and a legion of followers, kids can be indiscriminate about who they allow to follow. It is a fact that paedophiles troll Instagram, commenting on photos to engage unsuspecting users. Young people should be coached to follow and be followed by only people they know personally (in real life).

When a new user registers with Instagram, the app requests an optional phone number. Young people should not enter a phone number. If they fail to enable privacy, their phone number becomes available to anyone who follows them.

Age Limits

Instagram specifies that users must be over 13 for good reason, as many photos that are posted are not appropriate viewing for young people. Next to photos of cute puppies and inspirational quotes, you may find sexualised images. Unhealthy practices, such self-harm and eating disorders, get a lot of air time. Some celebrities are known to post suggestive shots. Comments are often lewd and degrading of women. It is not difficult to find photos of sexual violence and deviation.

The app offers ways to block and report people who are posting unacceptable images and behaving badly. Enabling privacy is an important first step to minimise exposure to inappropriate images.

Geotagging & Photo Map

Geotagging poses another possible danger. Geotagging refers to location data (coordinates on a map) that is embedded in a digital photo. When the photo is posted online, anyone can “open” the photo and find out where it was taken. The location can be pinpointed on a map using GPS technology. If a photo is taken at home, the photo could potentially tell a stranger where your child lives. As a rule of thumb, for kids’ safety, geotagging should be disabled on cameras, smart phones, and iPads.

Instagram’s version spin on geotagging is called Photo Map. A user’s photos are catalogued by location on a world map. The Photo Map of globetrotting Instagrammers can be impressive as well as useful; however, for your average student, this feature is probably superfluous and potentially risky. Photo Map is OFF by default on the Instagram app, but beware: it is easy to turn it on accidentally.

School Problems

Instagram can create issues at school. Some kids unintentionally cause problems by joking around or posting thoughtless comments; a few deploy Instagram as a cyberbullying weapon. Kids have been known to post unattractive pictures of one another in order to cause embarrassment or incite ridicule. Rash or cruel comments hurt people and inflame situations.

Teens tend to be poor at anticipating consequences. They may post a questionable photo or make a careless comment without thinking through the ramifications. They tend to forget that their photos could be captured in a screenshot and reposted by someone else.

Students who use Instagram should be encouraged to activate the privacy settings. By having a public setting, they expose not only themselves but also their friends to potential risk. Parents, check those settings periodically!

Use With Caution

Instagram is a fun way to share photos, but it is not a suitable app for young children or immature teens. Thirteen is the lower age limit specified by the company, but even then parents should permit Instagram use only if their teens prove they can handle it.

Check out my most popular post: Instagram + Kik : The Dastardly Duo. Here.

CommonSense Media has parent reviews available here.

 

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