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Instagram: everything you need to know about the photo sharing platform

What is Instagram?

Instagram is a free photo and video sharing social media app. It allows you to take a picture directly on the app or import one from the album on your phone. You can then choose to apply filters and other photo-enhancing tools to customise the image. After that, you add a caption and share with your followers.

Why is Instagram so popular?

Instagram’s popularity has been fast growing since it first debuted back in 2010. With one billion active users, it is second only to Facebook in terms of the most used social media apps. It allows users to curate their own photo gallery of their lives and for other users to comment and ‘like’.

Are there any age restrictions?

Children should be 13 years old before they can create an account. However, Instagram doesn’t ask users to specify their age and there are underage users with accounts. Instagram’s policy is to delete underage accounts if notified, but it does not actively seek them out.

Are there parental controls?

In short, no. Instagram says, “unfortunately we can't give [parents] access to the account or take any action on the account at your request”. This is why it is a good idea to discuss the risks of Instagram with your child and make sure they know about responsible photo sharing and what they need to do if something goes wrong online.

What are the main features of Instagram?

Stories

The stories feature is similar to a feature of Snapchat. Users can take photos and videos, apply filters and location geo-tags and then post them to their Instagram story. They can also upload older photos from their camera roll to their story and it will stay viewable for 24 hours. Users are told when someone takes a screenshot of their story.

Live

Instagram allows users to ‘Go Live’ and stream whatever they are doing to their followers. By default, Instagram will share your stream in public and allow messages from anyone. You can adjust this by tapping the settings icon in the upper right. Here, you can choose to hide your story from particular Instagram users, as well as limiting message replies only to people you follow. You can also turn message replies off altogether, if you’re only interested in sharing your video and not getting responses from live viewers.

TV

IGTV, a new app for watching long-form, vertical video from Instagram creators. While there’s a stand-alone IGTV app, you’ll also be able to watch from within the Instagram app so the entire community of one billion can use it from the very start. Each IGTV video can be up to an hour long.

Activity

In August 2018 Facebook and Instagram launched a feature that enables you to see just how much time you spend on their mobile apps.

You can do this on Instagram by going to Settings > Your Activity.

The feature gives you an overview of your usage for the last seven days as well as a daily average, allowing you to identify excessive days. It also gives you the option to set a daily reminder, enabling you to set time limits for yourself ranging from one minute to 12 hours. Once you’ve reached your limit you will be sent a notification, although this can be ignored.

This is part of an effort by Facebook and Instagram to tackle social media over usage. While it won’t stop your child indulging excessively on social media, it may help make them more aware of just how much time they are spending on these apps.

Influencers

Due to Instagram’s popularity, it is being used by companies and influencers for commercial purposes. An influencer is someone paid by a company to promote their product to their followers. However, it is not always clear to Instagram users that they are seeing advertising. In recent news, The Advertising Standards Authority said online ads, such as those on Instagram, should be "obviously recognisable" but that some users with big followings have broken the rules, by not making it clear they were being paid to promote the products they were posting about. It is important for your child to be aware of influencer marketing and to have a critical eye for it.

What steps can you take to keep your child safe when using Instagram?

Privacy settings

By default, content your child shares on Instagram can be seen by anyone but accounts can be made private, so their photos and videos are seen only by approved followers. To do this tap the profile icon on the bottom right, then tap the settings symbol in the top right of your profile. Under Account, scroll down to see if private Account is turned. If turned off, you can make your photos private by toggling the switch to on.

Even if your posts are private, anyone can see your profile photo, username and bio. It may be worth having a discussion with your child about what is appropriate for them to say and show on their bio screen.

The Add Location feature allows users to specify where the photo they are posting was taken. Encourage your child to think carefully about whether this is something they really want people to know.

Blocking

If someone is harassing your child you can block them, so they can’t tag, contact or mention them in comments. They also won’t be able to see your child’s profile or search for their account. To block a user, go to their profile and tap ••• on the top right side, then select Block User.

Reporting

You can report anyone who is not following Instagram’s Community Guidelines and Terms of Use. This includes posting, nude photos, abuse on the app and excessive spam. Reporting is completely anonymous so the person you report will not know that you have done so.

To report a photo/video:

Tap ••• above the photo you’d like to report and then tap Report Inappropriate

To report a comment:

Tap Comment above the image, swipe left on the comment you’d like to report, tap ! and then choose Spam or Scam or Abusive Content