Instagram: Teens’ alternative to texting, FB?

By Anne Collier

Shades of social media researcher danah boyd’s finding on teens’ “social steganography” (hiding in plain sight): The Daily reports (about halfway into a 2-min. video) that, because so many parents are now monitoring their kids on Facebook and checking their texts, “an enormous amount of teenagers” are using Instagram to take random photos just so they can chat privately in the comments under them. I know of no research behind the reason The Daily reporter Gary Vaynerchuk gave for this practice, but it’s a fairly logical one for why teens are using “platforms that have nothing to do with communication” as communication tools if there is a large number of them doing so. To my mind, this is just the 2012 version of teens flocking to MySpace and later Facebook in the middle of the last decade, before those services attained a critical mass of parents and when teens thought they were just talking to each other in them. We didn’t like our parents watching our every move when we were teens either, so this is the digital version of our generation’s endless phone conversations-behind-closed-doors about every topic under the sun.

Obviously to attract attention, if not parental anxiety, there will be coverage of Instagram developments like this, but I think it focuses on one topic of teen life and adolescent development in a way that’s unfair to teens.

Meanwhile, the main Instagram-related news this past week was about the addition of geolocation to the product. Now there’s a map (users can opt out of) that shows where one’s photos were snapped. Parents may want to talk about the possibility of posting TMI about one’s home and favorite hangouts in Instagram and mindfulness about what might be revealed in the backgrounds and other aspects of photos – about oneself and anybody else in a photo. See TechCrunch and this Forbes blog.

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* You may remember last winter’s headlines about teens “flocking” to Twitter for the same reason. Before that, in 2009, people thought there would be a mass migration away from Facebook or even social networking in general.
* Here’s my MySpace “tipping point” piece in 2/06, marking the beginning of that social site’s perfect PR storm, and “MySpace’s PR problem” (2/09), marking the beginning of the end of that perfect storm of parental concern development (the term I used when Business Week called me about it in early 2007). But well before that were reports of MySpace fatigue.

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