Ah, Instagram. It seems so harmless. It's just kids sharing cute or silly photos, or a way to express themselves artistically, right?
Uh, not so much. I've talked about the many issues that I have with Instagram here. But now there's another one. Sharing personal info via Instagram, particularly in the comments but also by texting random numbers posted by others.
There have always been issues with kids using the comment section to make inappropriate or rude or even bullying comments. But for many young Instagram users, the comment section is where all the communication takes place. Many parents check their children's accounts by scrolling through the photos. They see images of friends, lots of selfies (so many selfies!), some family shots, even some artistic ones. The parents then move on, thinking all is well on the internet.
If parents are monitoring their children's Instagram account, they really need to keep an eye on the comments.
My daughter mentioned a boy at school and said that his Instagram account was quite popular. She does not have an account, but will occasionally see what her peers are up to (and remind me that she's missing out). She said in passing, "You should check it out." I don't think she thought I would, but of course I did.
What I saw was that, in addition all kinds of conversations going on in the public comments, kids were sharing a ton of personal information, including home and email addresses, phone numbers, and their account names on questionable sites like Ask.fm and Kik.
A few asked friends to not mention these accounts in front of parents who had no idea of their existence, and the kids hoped to keep it that way.
Some kids leave their digits in the comments on a celebrity's Instagram accounts in hopes that the celebrity will give them a call.
Yesterday, Cool Mom Tech posted this article about the related issue of kids falling for hoaxes of fake celebrity accounts posting phone numbers, supposedly of the celebrity, and calling those numbers from their smartphones.
Seems safe to say that the vast majority of parents do not want strangers calling or texting their kids, or vice versa. Goodness only knows who is on the other end of that, but chances are, it's not awesome.
Cool Mom Tech also highlights that, when kids are texting the numbers posted in Instagram comments, "[i]f kids have enabled "Share My Location," whomever they’re calling or texting can see where they are and where they’ve been."
What can parents do?
* Make sure the "share my location" is turned to off on their phone.
* Talk with your kids about sharing personal info in Instagram comments and elsewhere online, and that should be "precious little," and certainly not your phone number.
* Encourage kids to stick with the rule of interacting online with only those individual whom they know in real life. It's one thing to follow/like a celebrity. That's fine. It's entirely different to post on their account, call numbers posted on the account and start interacting with strangers in that space.
* Talk to kids about hoaxes and the idea that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Much to my daughter's great sadness, Niall Horan and other members of One Direction are not going to be posting their phone numbers because they'd like to have a little chat. Remind them that you never really know who is on the other end of an online account. Even if your kid doesn't have an account, this is a good thing to be aware of generally.
* Along the too good to be true line, parents, if a post from your kid seems a little off, investigate.
The boy in my daughter's class posted a picture of the sunset and then used the comments to collect everyone's personal info. Another comment section that veered outside of acceptable sharing was under a photo of the boy's little brother, with a sweet comment about him.If your seventh grade boy is publicly singing his annoying younger brother's praises and he doesn't typically do so, something may be up.
* Also, go through Instagram with your kid and talk about how people are using the comment section. Have your kid show you examples of comments used in good ways and in bad and talk about them.
Here's to your kid's phone number not ending up with people who should not have it! Cheers!
Prior Post: You might be a tween parent if...
You may also like this related content: Keep your private parts private: If you wouldn't share it with your family, don't share it online and Teaching kids about hoaxes online
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Filed under: Technology