I am addicted to Instagram. I love having a social platform to connect with friends, follow celebrity lifestyles, get an aesthetic feed, and scroll through relevant posts. I spend an average of 2 hours on social media a day and it increases with every day that passes in confinement. And given Instagram’s one billion active users, I know I’m not alone!
However, the dark side of social media is something most 21st century users are unconsciously aware of. The potential of being exposed to trolls, receiving inappropriate DMs in our message requests, seeing creepy comments on public accounts and having child poachers in our friend requests is a reality we are aware but that we never dispute.
Recently, in an incident titled “Bois Locker Room Controversy”, a group of high school students aged 14 to 19 created an Instagram group chat where they threatened to sexually harass girls and shared objectionable photos of minors, as well as their personal information. My current updates are that many members have been questioned in juvenile court and one case is pending.
The incident is currently high profile on social media, with an explosion of stories and posts revealing screenshots of the group’s messages and the identities of the members. A spin-off controversy over a girls’ group chat, where they can be seen rating photos of boys and harshly criticizing other girls’ physical appearances, has also resulted in a battle of the sexes. Young political activists of differing opinions have taken to their social media accounts to air their opinions. The backlash, like the threatening posts in their comment sections, made me a stranger to the drama that followed, terrified despite my physical safety behind my own screen.
It raised questions about internet safety, toxic masculinity, online etiquette and the consequences of negative online publicity. The childish concept of “stranger danger” and the importance of being careful in what we communicate publicly and with whom we communicate has become a harsh reality.
Because when you place teenagers in an adult environment like social media, expect the Hunger Games, with real human lives at stake.
Here are some ways to be more Instagram aware without sacrificing your online independence:
1. Privacy is an illusion
I place great trust in the confidentiality of the private conversations I have with my closest friends, but trust can be a fragile thing. One explosive argument, one shared screenshot, and life as we know it can change, as it did in the girl group chat scandal. Always think before you type and delete what you think is perceived negatively by a third party. We have the right to have our opinions about others, as long as they do not directly or indirectly harm anyone.
Keeping your Instagram account private doesn’t prevent a lone wolf follower from using your photos to create a fake account or turn your images onto an adult website.
Recently, I received Instagram requests from two of my close friends from accounts claiming to be their “finstas” or spam accounts. Always be wary of accounts with low follower counts, even if you know the person. I contacted my friends to verify if these accounts were theirs, and they claimed they were fake. Their photos, which only followers of their private accounts could see, were being used by a malicious anonymous user to hit their female followers. I myself received a flirtatious message request from my close friend who was obviously not hers. Always report and block suspicious activity.
2. Eliminate Suspects
I have a private Instagram account but I have followers that I only know indirectly. My follower count isn’t incredibly high, so I’m able to browse through my followers to make sure I’m comfortable with them viewing my personal profile. I look at their highlights, tagged photos, and bios to determine what type of person they are, if I don’t know them personally. I don’t want a random person following me. My friends have also reported an issue on Instagram where some stranger accounts they don’t remember following are showing up.
3. Report suspicious accounts
I have over 117 strangers asking to follow me on Instagram. Most are older men, while others are small influencers. Even if I choose to ignore them and focus on accepting those I know, I am well aware of the temptation to increase our follower count to maintain the Insta-perfect ratio.
Never succumb to the unknown and potentially dangerous. If the person has access to your feed, they will have access to your friends and family. They’ll know who you are, where you’re from, your life history and geography, even if you have a minimalist aesthetic.
Instagram’s service team does an effective job of weeding out spam accounts and harmful content, from bullying and verbal harassment to disturbing images. You can now even restrict users to avoid seeing their posts and comments, without resorting to blocking them and making them aware of your hostility towards them.
However, I want to reaffirm that although aware of the potential pitfalls of social media, I am still an Instagram addict. I find the platform much safer than Facebook, which documents your life from day one, or Twitter, where you are bombarded with a ram of opinions.
Snapchat, beyond fun filters and interactive games, has become part of this generation’s connection culture. With the bonus of disappearing images, it is possible to receive inappropriate shots or sext minors.
When I think of the youth of the perpetrators of the Bois Locker Room case and how this incident will remain a black mark on their reputation, I realize how much a lack of self-awareness online can impact lives forever. Regardless of their upbringing and upbringing, the security of online anonymity that these users felt they had to say the unspeakable was their downfall.
I hope to be a liberal, non-helicopter parent when I’m older and wiser, but I know based on my experiences on social media, I would make sure my kids avoid using the platform until ’til they’re mature enough to handle his burdens.
You don’t grow up with Instagram, you have to be big already, at least mentally, to use it. As in life, every action performed online will be permanent.