At a press event in New York on Thursday, Instagram (owned by Facebook) announced a major new feature called Instagram Direct that enables users to send private messages to another user, or up to 15 other users. Prior to this, all Instagram messages sent by users would be seen by everyone following them.
Until now Instagram had two ways to control who could see your images and videos. The default is public, which means that anyone can follow you and see everything you post. Users also had the option to approve their followers, but even then any follower would see any post. With the new Instagram Direct you have the option of sending private messages to anyone.
At the press conference, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom summarized the service as “a simple way to send photos and videos to your friends.”
When someone you follow sends you an Intagram Direct message, it goes directly into your inbox. But if you get a message from someone you don’t follow, it goes into a pending queue. You can then either accept that message (by clicking the green check mark), reject it (clicking the x) or ignore it. If you accept it, you’ll see it and all future direct messages from that person (you can reverse it any time) but if you reject it, you’ll no longer see it or future messages in your pending queue or your inbox. Ignoring it leaves the message in the pending queue but doesn’t send it to your inbox.
Verification they’ve seen the message
When you send a person an image you’ll see their screen avatar in your “share to” screen and once the person has viewed your message you’ll see a check mark verifying that they’ve seen the image or video.
Allows for comments
The service also allows for comments, which can only be seen by people who have been sent the message. So if you’ve sent it to four people, all four people can see any comments any person made on that photo or video.
Privacy and safety implications
From a privacy standpoint this is a big win because it means that it’s now possible to send messages only to people you want to share that particular message with instead of everyone who follows you. Of course, it’s important to remember that there is always the chance that someone you send it to could make a digital copy and send it to others, so if something is truly private, you should only send it to someone you know will respect your privacy and — even then — it’s never a good idea to send images or videos that could get you into trouble.
From a safety standpoint, there is the concern about people being harassed or groomed via private messaging. It is possible to use any private messaging service (including email and text messaging) to reach out to strangers and try to convince them to do something inappropriate or harmful perhaps by “grooming” that person over a period of time. These situations are rare but because they can be so dangerous, it’s important for kids and teens to understand the potential dangers. As ConnectSafely.org (the non-profit where I serve as co-director) points out in ourSocial Web tips for Teens, it’s important to “be cautious when communicating with people you don’t know in person, especially if the conversation starts to be about sex or physical details.”
There is also the possibility of a person reaching out and then insulting or bullying in this private arena, knowing that what they say will be seen only by the recipient or a small (maximum 15) group. Again, I don’t anticipate this happening often, but if it does, you can always remove that person from your approved Instagram Direct list, block them and report them. For general advice on cyberbullying see A Parents’ Guide to Cyberbullying.
Parents’ guide to Instagram
ConnectSafely.org has just revised A Parents’ Guide to Instagram to include Instagram Direct.