Youth Culture Window

The Ugly Side of Instagram


No Filters Can Fix this Social Media Mess

Instagram built its empire on the ability to add filters to pictures. Since its inception, millions of young people have posted billions of pictures to the social media site taking advantage of technology that allows them to look their best… or to try and become an Insta Celeb. Maybe that’s why Instagram is the second-favorite social media platform among kids ages 13 to 17.

But somehow, an awful lot of ugly still makes its way to Instagram. 

Let’s talk about two elements, porn and cyberbullying.

InstaPORN — Pornography has become a staple on the site in spite of Instagram’s stringent policy otherwise. Their Community Guidelines claim:

We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.

Yet, as one recent Forbes article puts it, Instagram is chock full of pornography. It’s true. Not only do various users randomly inject nudity into their posts, but if you do a search for flagrant terms that one might type if searching for sexy pics, your smartphone is likely to melt in your hand. Oh, and virtually every porn star in the adult entertainment industry has an Instagram account.

Yes, most the sexy pics that make it to the site are about an inch from hardcore pornography, but some of the hardcore stuff slips through. Parents just need to be aware that Insta isn’t as PG as they might have thought.

Keep in mind, like other social media sites, users only need to be 13 to own an account. Perhaps that’s why Protect Young Eyes, an online watch group, has submitted complaints to Instagram calling for action over the rampant amount of porn found on their platform.

But porn isn’t Instagram’s only problem that negatively affects its users’ lives.

InstaSLAM — Bullying is as old as humanity; cyberbullying is as old as the internet. But evidently, some corners of the web can be more heinous than others…and it looks like Instagram is a place where young users routinely get slammed.

Even though 59% of this younger generation has been a victim of cyberbullying at one time or another, a staggering 72% of teens use Instagram to post pics and interact with others online. But one study conducted across the pond suggests Instagram may be the place where “nasty” happens most often. Researchers from Ditch the Label discovered that more kids in the UK had been cyberbullied on Instagram than any other social media site.

The Atlantic wrote an article about Instagram’s cyberbullying problem earlier this week and claimed that Instagram was rolling out “a set of new features aimed at combating bullying, including comment filters on live videos, machine-learning technology to detect bullying in photos, and a ‘kindness camera effect to spread positivity.’”

Label me a skeptic, but the only thing Instagram wants to spread is the dividends of their booming net worth.

Keep in mind, every bit of research out there reveals that mom and dad still have the greatest impact on how their “bullied” kids feel about themselves. That’s why we just launched the brand new site,, with the release of Jonathan McKee’s new book of the same title, to encourage and equip parents to help their kids who are being “slammed” on apps like Instagram.

So how should parents respond when they keep reading about all the distractions on Insta?

The Best Filter — Should parents have their kids immediately delete the Instagram app from their phones? No, not necessarily. Instagram can be a great way to connect with family and even chronicle life in meaningful ways. However, it’s also being misused by millions of kids who are negatively impacting themselves and others. So what can we do to help our kids avoid these problems on Insta?

Well, we can’t rely on Instagram, itself. It’s obvious that Instagram can’t police themselves; they’ve failed to keep up with changing patterns of use and their guidelines has to be updated on a continual basis, as a result. How about software and filters? Can parents totally trust them to keep their kids safe? No and no. I’m not saying parents shouldn’t use them; I’m only saying they aren’t foolproof.

  • My suggestion to families concerned about Instagram is to use the best filter available: parents.
  • Follow along with their account and look at comments as much as you look at content.
  • Do everything you can to make sure your kids don’t have a “Finsta” account. Talk about safety, guidelines, appropriateness, and consequences of poor, regularly.

Instagram is important to kids. Our kids are important to us. Therefore, we need to prioritize our influence in this part of their lives. In the long run, everyone will be glad you did.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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