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Kids, Instagram & its new feature ‘Photos of You’

Instagram is nothing if not creative – the app itself and its users. When I’m in it watching how the kids who encouraged me to follow them use it, I can’t help but smile. They are creative in/with all parts of the experience – the photos, the filters for messing around with photography, the emoticons, the hashtags, and the writing of captions and comments – but in a fun, light way.

It’s not all sweetness and light, certainly. Different users have different uses, depending on them, the situation, and the time of day. What I try to get across in talks is that how people use social media is…

  • Individual (like the way we live our lives and relate to others, based on who we are)
  • Situational (the time factor, based on the situation in the moment[s] of use)
  • Contextual (the social and environmental conditions around us and the people with whom we’re interacting)

…but Instagram has opened my eyes to how fun and artful social media can be (social media that weren’t specifically designed as games, anyway).

More conversation than story

Ok, so why am I talking about the fun and creativity? Because, in keeping with the nature of the app, Instagram is handling this new feature announcement in a creative way. It’s all about story, the company says in its blog about “Photos of You” – Instagram is about “bringing the stories behind your photos to life. Your captions and hashtags capture the ‘what?’,” your Photo Map the “where?” and now tagging (which Instagram just calls “adding” someone) the “who?”

I think that makes sense, and it’s a creative product developer’s narrative but, from watching kids in Instagram, I don’t actually think it’s the whole story, if you will. Because for young people, there aren’t just stories behind photos, as in photography as a way of documenting something. Sure, it does that, but for teens the photos are also parts of conversations. They’re not just documenting a relationship or the process of growing up, for example; they’re more a part of those things, part of the process, than ever before – part of relationship creation, artistic creation, self-creation, narrative creation, etc. They’re also part of a mix-media mashup of expression sometimes.

What “Photos of You” is

So about the “Photos of You” feature. It’s tagging (like on Facebook, which owns Instagram), and it’s also a new section of one’s Instagram profile that just has, well, photos of you, posted by you or others. So it’s also a convenient way to see how one is represented on Instagram – unless someone with a private profile posts a photo of you and you’re not following that person. But, as on Twitter, private profiles are rare among young Instagram users because it’s also kind of a game to see how many followers one can amass and how many likes one’s photos can get (where that lightness comes in). Some parents insist on their kids keeping their accounts private as a kind of trial or first phase. That’s not a bad idea, but it could also defeat the whole purpose of Instagram for some peer groups and create conditions for the digital version of social marginalization, so it’s good to really listen to our kids about why and how they and their friends use digital social tools.

Some good privacy features that come with “Photos of You” are: you can untag yourself, you can hide photos of you from your profile, and you can approve photos of you before they appear in your profile by choosing “Add manually” after tapping on the little gear icon (Instagram users will show you how). For much more on how it all works, see my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid’s description at Forbes.com.

4th- and 5th-graders in Instagram

As for the “why” of telling you all this, well, Instagram is so fun that it’s aging down. But don’t take it from me. Take if from my friend Trudy Ludwig the award-winning children’s author who talks to a lot of kids in a lot of schools. She told some colleagues in an email, “It’s amazing, really, how many elementary school kids are using Instagram. When I ask 3rd-to-5th graders how many use it, there is literally a collective and loud ‘Oh yeah!!!’ from the audience, with at least 50% of the hands instantly shooting up when I ask this” – more 4th and 5th graders than 3rd-graders, she later told me on the phone. “And while they’re raising their hands in the air,” she added, “they’re chatting out loud with one another about how much they love the app. You should see the looks on the teachers’ faces when they see the kids’ responses to this question.”

It’s good for parents and educators of kids under 13 to know about kids’ favorite social and creative tools. Instagram was not designed for and officially does not allow people under 13, but there’s nothing inherently inappropriate about the app for children. It’s just that not all kids (or adults, for that matter) are developmentally ready to use the app in a consistently fun, creative, and civil way that’s appropriate for them and their peers. Whether your kids are is up to you and them, but have a little fun as you figure it out together!

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