Lyn Swanson Kennedy is a woman on a mission to alert Australian parents that they can’t assume their pre-teen children can safely use Instagram, even after the platform rolled out new parental controls this month.
The Perth mother of four is a campaigner with Collective Shout.
She says the free, online photo-sharing application and social network platform owned by Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook) is a playground for predators.
With two billion monthly active users, its popularity with children and young teenagers is not going to wane any time soon either, and by the end of last year Instagram nudged out TikTok to be the world’s most downloaded app.
Children under 13 are not allowed to be on the platform, but Lyn says her almost three years of research following 1600 Instagram accounts predominantly of preteen girls, proves that there are plenty on it.
She sees the way pedophiles congregate to them and to any account where children’s photos are regularly posted.
“This is not to scare anybody but…you might be posting a very innocent beach photo or dance concert, or children in a playground or school grounds and yet they can end up in the hands of some really sinister predators, so it is important to be aware of that,” she told Connect.
One big problem is so-called ‘shout out’ accounts or modelling promotion accounts, which draw attention to children’s accounts.
“We call them parasite accounts because essentially they take content from these girls and re-share it under the guise of giving them a little shout out, trying to help them to engage more followers and more sharers of their content. We know the sort of followers who are attracted to these accounts and what they use them for.”
That includes exposing children to sexually explicit messages and photos, requesting sexual photos from them, and using their innocently-posted images in the creation of pornography.
“This isn’t just happening to kids on the other side of the world, this is happening to Australian children, including your child in the next room from you. If they’re on the platform they’re at as much risk as any other child in the world,” said Lyn.
“What is really disturbing is that many of the accounts that I follow are preteens’ but they are situated on the platform under parent-managed accounts. It appears to be some parents setting up accounts, though we don’t know for sure that’s the case, in a situation where they are participating in what is actually ending up as exploitation of their own daughters on the platform.
“One example is a 10-year-old posing in a leotard…men will comment and make very specific, graphic sexual comments to this girl and then you’ll see those comments get a number of likes including a like from the account holder.
“It’s concerning to know that these girls and potentially their parents are being groomed to view all engagement as good engagement, even these very serious, very predatory types of comments, simply on the basis that it’s engagement and we are almost being groomed as a society to view all engagement as good.”
this month instagram announced its new parental controls, soon to be available in australia, which it says includes letting teenager’s parents and guardians limit app usage
This month Instagram announced its new parental controls, soon to be available in Australia, which it says includes letting teenager’s parents and guardians limit app usage time and see who they follow and who follows them.
“We always support new measures which are aimed at improving safety and increasing protection for users, especially children and young teens and yet we know that there is still a huge gap in safety for children on the platforms,” Lyn said.
“We would echo the response of other groups who have said it’s still better that children aren’t on it at all and we would like to see measures implemented to stop and to remove all content particularly of under 13 users from the platform.”
The former president of the Queensland Court of Appeal, Ms Margaret McMurdo is among those raising concerns over a potential link between pornography and higher levels of sexual assault.
Lyn Swanson Kennedy from Collective Shout said she was “hugely concerned” that young girls are being trained by social media platforms to view sexual harassment as normal and acceptable.
“What happens to these girls as they grow up and go into the workplace, when they have been groomed to think these are typical interactions?” she asked.
“Will they know if their employers does this to them that this is wrong, and in fact also illegal? Will they understand that it’s within their rights to pursue redress for this sort of behaviour?”
Collective Shout has been calling on Instagram to remove all pre-13 accounts, to stop allowing offensive comments on children’s content and to remove, block and report the predators who engage with children and their content to authorities