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Instagram - What every parent should know

Cyber Safety Cop Sunday, February 9, 2014

I tell parents cyber safety is a moving target. The app popular with teens today is often out of vogue in just a few months. Today, Instagram is on every kids mobile device. 


Instagram is a popular photos and video sharing and social networking site with millions of tweens and even elementary age kids, and many use it without incident, but are there issues for parents to be concerned about? Yes. Parents must know about Instagram privacy, cyberbullying, and other content concerns.


What is Instagram?


It's an app that permits users to post pictures and videos taken with their smartphone to a social network. People within a user's network then like and comment on those images, and vice versa.


Who uses it?


Instagram has 150 million monthly users, 60% of them outside the United States, according to Mashable. It has replaced Facebook as the favored social media site for students.


What's the age requirement?


Like most other social networking sites, Instagram requires users to be age 13 or older per its Terms of Use. You can report an underage user and parents can delete their child's account if necessary on Instagram's Help Center.


What are the privacy settings?


Instagram gives users two options: private or public.  Either way, bios are visible to all and can be where predators start looking for underage victims.


With the public setting, "[a]nyone signed into the Instagram application can view photos or videos on a public user's Instagram profile . . . Once you set your posts to private, anyone who wants to see your child's posts will have to send your child a follow request which they can then approve or ignore." according to Instagram.


What info is being shared


When signing up the, the user has the option to include a phone number as part of their public profile.


Instagram also reveals user's locations. Photographs can be geotagged, revealing the location of the photo using the latitude and longitude. Instagram encourages users to create a Photo Map. While it is possible to turn that off, most children don't do so and consequently, everyone who is in your child's network knows exactly where they are and where they've been.


News flash: Kids share way too much of their personal information on social media sites. Instagram is no different. Kids routinely will share photos of their school schedules to determine who had class together. Seems harmless, but those schedules included information like address, phone number and some school schedules include social security numbers. That is NOT info you want your child broadcasting to the world.


Who's "Following" my children on Instagram?


When I give my Cyber Safety talk to students, I ask them how many followers they have on Instagram? Most students have at least 400, with many in the thousands. I ask them, who are these people? I get nervous chuckling in reply. "Private" privacy settings give the user the ability to grant the person requesting permission to follow them. This is great unless your child's criteria for approving followers is flawed. Unless, you as the parent have set rules for apprving follwers, they are deeply flawed. Most children approve followers based on the appropriateness of the profile photo and the content of the bio. The profile photo and bio are supplied by the user and can be of anything or anyone. A sexual predator is not likely to put a photo or bio forward that a teen will find offensive. 


Parents need to screen every follower or potential follower: Do you know this person in real life? If not, there shouldn't be an online relationship, or even an Instagram connection, with that person.


My kid tells me it's harmless. Is that true?


Nope. Currently, the majority of the cyberbullying investigations that I am involved with often occur on Instagram.


In fact, parents in Texas are filing a lawsuit about an Instagram account that cyberbullied their teen daughter for 9 months with 900 followers. The site by Klein High School students was titled "“2014 Klein Hoes” and featured photos of one girl in particular. That specific account was taken down after the parents of the targeted girl got a restraining order.


The parents are filing a lawsuit against the teens behind the account  for libel and all of their parents for negligence based on the Instagram account created to shame their teenager daughter.


“We’re being super aggressive about it, because this behavior really needs to stop,” Tej Paranjpe, the Houston-based attorney for parents Reymundo Shellie Esquivel, told Yahoo Shine. “It’s really an issue of principle.”


Shellie Esquivel asked in a segment on Today, “How many children is it going to take to commit suicide, to kill themselves, to hurt themselves … because of bullies out there? And the parents don't want to take responsibility."


Is Instagram moderated?


Not really. Common Sense Media says, "mature content still appears in some photos and in the comment sections" and notes, "we'd love to see more moderation for photos and comments to be totally safe for kids." There are images of nudity, drug use and offensive language used in the comments.


Bottom line: For those 13 and up, it can be fun, but parents need to moderate. Have their password and check their accounts to see both what they are posting and who is following them. Parents should also be on Instagram, become familiar with the site and follow their kid(s), and also teach them to be aware and safe online.

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