by DEBORAH WILLIAMS
Twelve-year-old Jordan is following Hot Bikini Babez.
As is his friend Jay. But Jay is also following Hota Girls, Hottest People on Earth and Blonde Bitch Lyfe – which apart from their obvious spelling problems, send pictures culled from men’s magazines and online sources several times a day, directly to his smartphone or iPad.
Welcome to the word of Instagram – a photo sharing app which has been embraced by photographers posting amazing photographs from around the world as well as ordinary folk like you and I, sharing photos of our travels, our families, our pets. It has been similarly embraced by tech-savvy preteens.
And from what I have seen, many of them are doing it unchecked, as unlike Internet searches, their Instagram activity will not show up in their Internet history. And don’t the kids know it…
One of Instagram’s features is the ability to see photos that your friends have ‘liked’ and recently I saw a friend’s daughter had ‘liked’ a photo of my 12-year-old – a photo I had not taken.
Intrigued, I clicked on it and discovered many of my daughter’s friends; profiles open to the whole world, posting information that goes against every single aspect of Internet safety that they have been taught at school and at home.
Names, location, school information and even their pets names are all readily available on their open profiles (Instagram has the ability to have a private profile, but most of the preteens aren’t using it – instead trying to garner a large number of followers. “Follow me and I’ll follow you back” is a common refrain).
I saw her friend Bella, whose profile describes her as a ‘follower of Jesus’ with a photo of herself in a bikini posing in front of a mirror, sunglasses on, lips pursed.
“Yeah baby you da sexy,” is one of the comments from a boy in her class.
A pile of other 12-year-old boys also commented using the word ‘sexy’ – as if a 12-year-old could or should be sexy.
Bella’s profile is open and she has posted a lot of identifying information. It would take an online predator minutes, maybe seconds to find her.
Also shocking was the online gossiping – the catty remarks 12-year-old girls are notorious for, now online for the world to see. Permanently. One poor girl – a nice and very clever girl, whose parents would no more allow her on Instagram than they would allow her to go nightclubbing, copped a particularly bad roasting – her smiling picture posted online by a classmate, with many of her ‘friends’ leaving comments, labeling her annoying and “the meanest person eva”.
It would be devastating for her confidence – if she knew about it.
Please don’t get me wrong, I love Instagram and I have no plans to stop using it. I love the artistry, and imagination of the many talented photographers. And I love that it allows me to keep up with my friend’s lives.
But it’s not a safe place for children.
The thought of anyone reading all the cringe-worthy things I wrote in my diary as a 12-year-old horrifies me. Yet that’s effectively what these kids are doing – opening their diary to the entire world. And with pictures too.
And then there’s the porn – which is a whole other topic.
But what I am saying is, parents, if your child has a smartphone or an ipad, you NEED to join Instagram to see what they are up to. Please. To save them from their 12-year-old selves. Their older selves will thank you for it.
Deborah Williams is a former journalist with too many opinions. You can read some of them here.
Do you monitor your child’s social media use?
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