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Parents cautioned to be aware of teens sharing photos on Instagram

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Parents worry about teens texting and using Facebook, but those same kids might also be using Instagram to send pictures and messages to each other. Unless privacy settings are turned on, anyone can view the images and contact your kids. Some are even using that power to entice children into taking questionable pictures.

There are 15 million users on Instagram. To get involved you just need to download a free app to your smart phone to take and share the pictures with the entire world.

Most photos are harmless, but there are also sexually explicit images and pictures of drugs, some of them taken by the children themselves.

You may not know about Instagram, but chances are your kids are using it to share pictures of themselves.

Sydney Moten says she posts photos of "me hanging out with my friends and, like, different places I go."

Moten and her friends use the free smart phone app to take photos and also send messages. The images get sent to a cloud-based server that all Instagram users have access to. If privacy settings are not enabled, all 15 million Instagram users can see the pictures at anytime without the need for a password.

So what are your teens sending to the cloud for the world to see?

"Just me and some random things that I do," said Fabiola Moreno.

But not all users post innocent pictures. We showed Katehrine Cabaniss with Crime Stoppers an image from the account of a Houston teenager. There are several photos of what appear to be marijuana and other drug paraphernalia that anyone can access.

"They are taking pictures of themselves with illegal substances or committing illegal acts," Cabaniss said.

More disturbing are the photos of scantily-clad or semi-nude young girls. Again, they can easily viewed by anyone with an Instagram account.

Cabaniss cautioned, "We want parents to know about this site and how their kids are using so they can monitor their kids' use and avoid that kind of a problem."

That's good advice, according to Mary Kay Hoal with YourSphereForParents.com.

"Three clicks in less than two minutes on the site, we saw nudity, we saw pornography and we saw horrific images," she said.

Hoal tells us she recently was involved in the case of a young Instagram user who was contacted by a person through Instagram messaging who claimed to be a modeling scout.

"Kids have participated in disrobing, being filmed and then that content being uploaded to child pornography sites," Hoal said.

Locally we found a 14-year-old girl who was contacted through Instagram by someone claiming to be from Page Parkes Modeling. The local agency tells us none of its scouts contact anyone through Instagram.

So what can parents do about all this? If your son or daughter has a smart phone, get them to show you their Instagram pictures. We found the first and last names of dozens of local kids who are sharing questionable images with the world. Also, as a parent sign up to Instagram and follow your child's account so you can see all their images.

You can set accounts to be private and only accessible to those you allow to see the images. You can also report inappropriate images to Instagram. We did contact the company for a comment on this report but have not heard back.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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