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How Parents Can Protect Their Kids From Porn on Instagram

Words by
Jake Cutler

JUN 13, 2023

How Parents Can Protect Their Kids From Porn on Instagram

Social media is under fire right now for endangering kids. Whether it’s concerns about exacerbating eating disorders, contributing to an adolescent mental health crisis, or enabling the sale of illegal drugs, parents are calling for action to protect their children. And leaders are starting to respond. 

Utah recently became the first state to put legal age restrictions on social media and others are considering following suit. Tech leaders themselves are responding to the pressure by adding more safety measures to their apps—although in some cases this seems to be more about saving face than protecting kids.

These are all good signs of a brighter technology future for our kids. But as parents, we need to confront the problems facing our children right here and right now.
One of those problems is pornography on Instagram—the photo sharing platform now touting 2 billion active users globally.

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How Prevalent is Pornography on Instagram?

It’s not hard for kids to find pornograpy online. According to a recent Common Sense Media study, 73% of teens report they have consumed pornography. What’s worse, porn often finds them: 58% of teens reported seeing pornography accidentally.

While Instagram does have strict community guidelines meant to prevent access to porn, those guidelines are not doing the job parents wish they would.

As part of an experiment conducted by Protect Young Eyes to test the efficacy of Instagram’s “no nudity” policy, they reported five different hashtags linked to pornography at least ten times a day over the span of five days. The result? No action was taken by Instagram to remove them.

It can be difficult to find exact data on the prevalence of porn on Instagram but there is plenty of evidence to suggest it’s widespread. According to data provided by consumer research company Comparitech, for example, over 6 million pieces of Instagram content were flagged for depicting child pornography or sexual abuse in just the first nine months of 2022.

One can only imagine how many pieces of content, flagged or unflagged, contain adult pornography. Add to that the millions of additional posts that parents would find objectionable—even if Instagram might not deem them fully pornographic—and the problem starts to take shape.

teen boy looking at his cell phone

How Kids Find Porn on Instagram (and How it Finds Them)

Whether they’re searching for porn intentionally or not, kids can find it on Instagram in two basic ways: 1) pornographic content that has gone unchecked directly within the platform, and 2) via links to external sites that can be opened within Instagram’s internal internet browser.

Finding Porn Directly on Instagram

Despite the “no nudity” policy and other protective settings, there is still plenty of pornographic content to be found within Instagram itself.

Users of any age will primarily find porn, either by accident or with a bit of work, through hashtags using Instagram’s search function.The tricky part about hashtags is that they are user-generated so they’re constantly evolving and they proliferate quickly.

An obviously pornographic hashtag, such as #porn, is likely to be closely monitored by Instagram. But users can use as many hashtags as they want on any given post so more general hashtags like #hot or #beautiful could be used to sneak porn into feeds that get in front of a lot of eyes.

Hashtags in foreign languages or those using slang, leetspeak/symbology, and emojis add another layer of complexity. Kids are notoriously ahead of the curve as compared to adults on this stuff so Instagram is left playing catch-up when it comes to monitoring new terms that could lead to dangerous content.

What is Vanish Mode on Instagram?

Essentially, Instagram’s “Vanish Mode” is a feature that allows users to send messages that disappear once they’ve been read. It functions a lot like Snapchat and carries all the same concerns for kids.

Obviously, Vanish Mode could be used for harmless, casual conversations, but there’s a looming risk that it could be misused—especially by impressionable teens and kids.

The fact that messages vanish after being read might embolden some users to share explicit content, knowing it will disappear quickly. This can inadvertently lead to the propagation of pornographic content, as well as additional risks like cyberbullying and grooming.

While much of this article has focused on the more public dangers of Instagram, the platform’s private messaging capabilities might actually create the biggest dangers.

Instagram’s private messaging capabilities might actually create the biggest dangers

While much of this article has focused on the more public dangers of Instagram, the platform’s private messaging capabilities might actually create the biggest dangers.

Most well-known porn platforms (PornHub, Playboy, etc.) have official Instagram accounts. Individual porn stars do too. But these accounts are obvious targets for monitoring and the owners don’t want to risk being suspended. 

So while their feeds are likely filled with semi-pornographic content you don’t want your kids seeing, the even bigger danger there is the links those accounts provide that lead to more hardcore porn videos and images on external sites that are navigable within Instagram’s web browser.

Many of these pornographic websites will display a warning message to the user that they are about to view content only suitable for people 18+. That may stop a child who inadvertently clicks on a dangerous link but won’t do much to stop a kid intentionally searching out pornography.

These “backdoors” to the internet are one of the major loopholes kids exploit to circumvent safety software or settings used by a lot of parents. For this exact reason, every Gabb device is designed without these backdoors. Even 3rd-party apps that parents can add to our Gabb Phone Plus have first been carefully vetted to ensure they don’t provide this loophole.

mother and daughter looking at cell phone on couch

How to Protect Kids from Porn On Instagram

The first and most important step to protecting kids online is establishing a relationship of trust. Pornography is not an easy thing to talk about but having that conversation with your kid really isn’t optional for any parent seeking to protect their child in today’s world.

When it comes to Instagram specifically, serious thought should be given to providing access to the platform in the first place. The app, like all technology, offers a lot of positives. But the significant risks should lead parents to be careful about when to let their child navigate them.

Every child is different so it’s tough to even offer a recommended age. The bigger considerations should be the child’s maturity level and your confidence in their likelihood to talk with you when they come across something objectionable on Instagram.

If you’re not sure your child is ready, err on the side of caution. Plenty of parental controls and monitoring software options exist but the safest bet is a device that doesn’t allow internet access or social media in any form. As mentioned above, too many backdoors and loopholes are out there and kids are tech-savvy. And constantly tinkering with a long list of monitoring settings gets tedious and can cause friction in your relationship with your child.

If you’re looking for options that let your child wade into the world of technology in a safe, stress-free way, consider these:

Gabb Watch: safe talk and text in a phone kids can wear

Gabb Phone: the world’s safest phone for kids—no internet or social media

Gabb Phone Plus: a premium safe phone for kids and teens that allows parents to add safe apps as their child is ready for them

Let Us Know What You Think!

Do you have questions about this topic we didn’t cover in the article? Let us know in the comments below.

We also love hearing about your experiences navigating the world of technology with your kids so feel free to share those too. They say it takes a village to raise a child and we’re all part of the same digital village.

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