I crushed my daughter's heart last week. I had to tell her "no".
None of us like to hear "no", but as a parent, it's part of our job to dish out the negatives when necessary.
But this time was particularly tough. I was saying "no" to a piece of technology that most of her friends already use to swap pictures and chat back and forth - Instagram.
Instagram has positives: the photo filters are great, it syncs well with Facebook and it even makes photo sharing easy. Many adult users simply use the filters and take great photos that look like those Polaroid shots from your past. Fun, right?
Not so fast.
Prior to Facebook's 2012 purchase of Instagram, many people discovered how one could post suggestive, illegal or pornographic images very easily. Even though those images ran counter to the EULA (end user license agreement), that has never seemed to stop many people. With only 15 full time employees, how could they? Instagram waited to hear from their 80 million + users to self-police.
That works really well. Yeah, Right. (Please excuse my sarcasm).
By the late summer of 2012, Instagram was swapping more pornography than most sites. Even though Facebook has cleaned up Instagram's act, it still is a dangerous site for kids and even teens.
As a parent, I love technology. I love that my kids enjoy working on computers, ipads and ipods. I love sharing life together with friends and family online - to an extent.
So why did I say “no” to my precious daughter?
1.) The EULA says no. In their own end user license agreement, no person under the age of 13 is allowed to sign up. Parents, if you enable your child to have his or her own account, you are violating the law. You can establish one in your name, but all data shared on the site will be part of your digital footprint.
2.) Complete lack of Parental Control. Yes, you can limit the number of accounts you follow and who shows up in your Instagram feed, but users can still search to their heart’s content for anything and everything. AND, since Instagram still does precious little to protect your child, even innocuous searches turn up frightening results.
Here’s how it works: explicit content can be given any tag. Since tags of #porn, #sex and #nude are banned, content providers use other terms. Since so many younger users try other, innocent searches, many malicious Instagrammers will use those innocent tags to lure children. For example, concerned parent Thomas MacDonald blogs about how he searched #teddybearpicnic and got an eyeful of a man’s “wedding tackle”.
The root of the problem for parents is that you cannot disable the search platform at all. Even if your sweet daughter only wants to share pics with her small circle of friends that you choose to allow, she only has to click a button to search to her heart’s content with no filter.
3.) #Kik me. Really. It’s fun! Users on Facebook gave up poking ages ago. On Instagram and similar sites, you simply need to kick someone to get them to start following you. Celebrities and other power users regularly invite kids or others to #kik them to be able to see their latest pics and info.
Searching the #kik feeds gets you Instagram’s latest pictures from a global audience of 8.5 million people with zero filters. In a five minute session on Instagram where I simply refreshed the #kik feed, I saw full frontal male and female nudity, pics of young teens in various stages of undress, several shots of men pleasuring themselves, exposed breasts and bodies in sexually provocative poses. All this interspersed the torrent of cute puppies, engagement announcements and other innocent pictures.
This is where the danger of Instagram lies. You may, as a parent, believe Instagram may not harm your child, but there is a seedy underbelly of these sites that if not protected against, may introduce your child to more than you ever intended. As a parent, we have a responsibility to protect our children and help them make wise decisions. Instagram may not be a tool that aids you in this.
If you decide to allow your child to keep using Instagram, make sure you have some solid discussions about the dangers. Some rules you might want to set forward may look like this:
Welcome to parenting in the 21st century! It’s hard to keep up with all the changes, but you have to try and stay connected to your kid’s digital universe. Your parents didn’t have to worry about this. But you do. You have to make some serious choices, parents.
I made one that made my daughter furious with me. But after a few minutes of examination, I am convinced I made the right one.
John Mark Yeats