Public vs. Private on Instagram

In our parent’s guide to Instagram, we talked about what Instagram is, how teenagers use it, what FOMO is, and a bit about Rinstas vs. Finstas. In this post, we’re going to discuss how Instagram’s privacy settings work and what exactly they control. If you need help reporting cyberbullying on Instagram, see our post on reporting cyberbullying on various social media sites.

How to Set Your Profile to Private

By default, posts on Instagram are public. This means that anyone using Instagram can see your pictures, stories, and comments. There are also external sites, like Insta Stalker, that let people without Instagram browse the site.

To change your profile to private, go to Settings. Then, go to Account Privacy. Then you can toggle Private Account to on.

When you set your Instagram profile to private, only people from your followers list will be able to see your pictures, stories, comments, followers list, and following list. If your profile is set to private, new follow requests will be sent to you for approval before they’ll be able to see your posts. If there is someone on your followers list and you don’t want them seeing your posts, you’ll have to block them. To block someone, go to their profile, tap on the icon with three dots, and then tap Block. To unblock someone, it’s the same process, but you tap Unblock.

If you block someone, Instagram will not notify that user that they are blocked. However, that person may be able to guess that they are blocked based on the fact that they can no longer find you on Instagram.

Other Sites

Note that if you have your Instagram linked to another social media site, changing your profile on Instagram to private won’t change who can see your posts on the other site. For example, if you share an Instagram post on Twitter, anyone who can see your Twitter posts will be able to see that particular Instagram post.

Third Party Access

To revoke third-party access to your Instagram posts, go to Settings, then tap Authorized Access. You will see a list of apps and websites linked to your Instagram account. If you want to decouple one from your Instagram account, tap Revoke Access, and then click Yes.

Direct Messages

Anyone can send you a direct message, even if they are not your follower and you have your profile set to private. If you no longer want messages from a particular person, you may block them as described above.

Likes

When you like a post, it’s visible to anyone who can see the post.

If your account is set to private, only approved followers can see your posts, but when you like a public post it will be visible to anyone who can see the post and your username will be clickable. Your username will be visible, but your pictures will not be.

Comments

If you have a private profile and you mention someone who isn’t an approved follower in a post, that person won’t get a notification.

If you have a private profile and comment on someone else’s public post, your comment will be visible to the public and your username will be clickable.

Hashtags

If your profile is set to private and you use a hashtag in a post, it won’t appear in a public search for a hashtag. Only your followers will be able to see the post.

An Important Caveat

Even if you have your Instagram privacy settings as tight as possible, something you say or post could still make it out into the broader world. It’s easy for a risqué picture or a mean comment to be screencapped and sent around to people beyond your follower list. Remember that privacy settings can be circumvented and that a bit of caution when posting online is always a good idea.

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Parent’s Guide to “Sockpuppets”

Imagine your teenager tweets something about #MeToo. Another Twitter user doesn’t like what your teenager tweeted. They send a nasty direct message. Suddenly, your teenager is inundated with harassing messages from a bunch of different users. They all look new and have the default silhouette avatar picture. It’s like your teenager is being attacked by dozens of users all at once.

Maybe. But maybe not. It could be that your teenager is just being cyberbullied by that first user who got mad. It’s just him and his sockpuppets.

What Is a Sockpuppet?

A sockpuppet—one word, not two—is another identity created by an Internet user in order to pretend to be multiple people online. For example, Twitter user @ExampleAccount might also create @ex574, @ea1829, and @acc29832. His primary account @ExampleAccount is his primary or “real” online identity. He uses it to interact with others as himself. But his sock puppets aren’t “real” in the sense that he uses them for something inauthentic.

Why?

Sockpuppets are used in a number of ways. One common reason is for someone to talk themselves up or seem more important or consequential than they really are. Someone may use their sockpuppets to like, share, retweet, upvote, or otherwise promote their “real” account.

Another big reason people use sockpuppets is to dominate online arguments and discussions. They can use multiple accounts to promote their own views. For example, an editor at the New Republic got in trouble for using sockpuppets to praise his own work and attack his critics. A prominent lawyer was sent to jail in part over using sockpuppets to harass rivals of his father, a famous historian. British writer R.J. Ellory got caught using sockpuppets to write positive reviews of his own books.

Harassment is a major use of sockpuppets. Making fake Facebook, Instagram, or Reddit accounts to harass other users is something that may happen. Twitter accounts that look brand new are infamous for their harassing behaviour. In fact, the reason Twitter no longer uses an egg as the avatar for new accounts is their association with harassing and trolling behaviour.

What Do You Do?

If your child or teenager is being harassed online and you suspect it’s actually just one person using sockpuppets, your first step is to report the behaviour. See this post for how to report on different popular platforms.

Most online platforms take reports of sockpuppetry seriously as it’s a major problem for them. It’s worthwhile to report because a site’s admins can detect someone using sockpuppets by checking IP addresses. Researchers are also developing tools to identify sockpuppets in other ways.

Beyond reporting, it’s also important to help your child understand what’s happening. Being attacked by a crowd or swarm of people is very distressing. But some of the sting of that experience can be taken away by understanding that there isn’t actually a crowd, just one person.

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