If you have a Facebook account, or own an iPhone, you have probably encountered Instagram. Originally, I thought it was just another creative camera tool. The images I saw uploaded onto Facebook were all harmless and heavily altered for effect. What I didn't realize was that Instagram is a social network of its own, with a dark side.
How could pictures of new tennis shoes, buildings, and goofy pics of each other at the mall be used for anything but harmless expression? Well, it doesn't take long to discover that whenever you have a new social media craze, especially one with photo capabilities, there is an element of danger.
When Facebook purchased Instagram, the intended market was teens. In many ways, Instagram is taking the place of Facebook in the lives of teens. Unfortunately, this knowledge did not inspire the developers to make it a safe place for kids.
While the majority of people use it for its intended purpose, parents need to know the privacy invasion issues and how to protect their children. It is a shame that people had to step in and ruin the fun of this enjoyable site, but it was inevitable. New accounts are automatically set to public, and by public that means anyone from anywhere in the world can view and comment on your child's uploads.
The very reason the site is fun makes it dangerous. Teens love to take and share photos. Social media matters a lot to this age group, so they shoot pictures of mundane things like what they are eating for lunch or fun pictures with everyone they are hanging out. But just taking photos is not enough, they have to be shared. Instagram allows users to do this in an instant, and receive the instant gratification of comments from followers and admirers.
Sounds innocent enough, right?
Wrong. Instagram allows users to follow others. Of course, your child wants and expects friends and acquaintances to follow their every move. This means anyone can pull up pictures of your child through simple searches. The searches could be something as easy as "swim suit" or "beach" to bring up images of teens from all other the world. The searcher can then follow the teens whose accounts are not set to private.
Change privacy settings
Set the profile to private. Go to the profile page, switch "Photos are private" to ON. Now your child will need to "approve" any new followers. As simple as that is, kids may balk at changing their settings; having random people comment on their photos is exhilarating. But displaying constant photos of where they are, what they are doing, and who they are with can be a serious problem.
Step up to the plate
As a parent, you probably had a similar conversation when Facebook came into your home, so do not shy away from setting boundaries. Check on their activity and let them know that they are responsible for their internet use. If they block you, it is time to remind them that these tools are a privilege, not a right!More by Sylvie Branch: