This is part one of my three-part series about Understanding Instagram.
Instagram is my happy place. It's where my perfectly curated collection of things I like to look at is all consolidated into one feed. I go there not only to just keep up with friends, but also look at things that interest me.
A ministry friend called me up recently and told me that he was speaking with someone in his congregation about an addiction to pornography. Oddly enough, he said that he was told by this individual that the thing that kept tripping him up was the Search & Explore section on Instagram.
I'll be honest - very rarely do I use this feature on the Instagram app. I pretty much follow who and what I want to follow and I look through my Stories and Feed daily. But if you tap on that tab at the bottom of the app (labeled as a simple magnifying glass), you might be surprised what you find.
According to Instagram, the Search & Explore section does this:
Posts are selected automatically based on things like the people you follow or the posts you like. You may also see video channels, which can include posts from a mixture of hand-picked and automatically sourced accounts based on topics we think you’ll enjoy.
Instagram, just like an social network, doesn't have people picking stuff out for you, it allows an algorithm to do that. And that algorithm is basing what it shows you in that Search & Explore section based upon who you're following and the posts that you have liked. That second part is much more telling: Instagram will inject their own hand-picked accounts into your Search & Explore tab based upon what they think you might enjoy.
So, let's say a 21-year old young man follows just a few Instagram accounts that contain violence, vulgar music, or scantily-clad women. And based upon his likes on those accounts that he follows, the Search & Explore feed is going to show him more and more of that kind of stuff.
So is there any way to disable the S&E feed? No. Is there any way to keep it locked down so you can still use Instagram? No, not unless you use Instagram through the browser, which doesn't let you use the S&E feature but also doesn't allow you to post anything.
So what's the solution here? Just as I've said before on countless occasions, there is no substitute for you having your child's username and password and logging into their account every week. If you allow your children to have an Instagram account, you need to be making sure that you know everything that happens on said account.
The most obvious way to avoid seeing content you don't want is to unfollow the accounts in question. You probably don't want to go unlike every photo, but eventually the algorithm will figure out that this content isn't of interest to you any longer. Creating a new account and archiving the old one is also an option, but make sure your child doesn't create extra Finstagrams, or fake Instagram accounts (which I'll talk about in an upcoming post) nor should your child have access to the old account.
Obviously, digital parenting is a real thing. We as parents are getting dizzy on the ever-shifting landscape of apps and social media trying to keep up with our teens. But don't give up and don't give in. Protect your child, bring them up in the Lord.