Instagram Stories Spark Questions About Responsibility

instagramInstagram has grown exponentially, big enough even to rival a wildly popular site like Twitter. Unlike the text based social site where users are challenged to condense themselves into 140 characters or less, this social sharing site has a new challenge: find an image to convey the perfect message. It is a seemingly simple task, but the stories about Instagram users spark new questions about sharing responsibility.

The questions are not themselves new: how much is too much sharing? What is offensive and what is not? Who should be allowed to use it and for what? These types of questions have been asked about Twitter and Facebook long before now. But the unique nature of Instagram, a predominantly image based form of communication, brings with it a different context in which to discuss these issues.

For instance, Facebook has been plagued by issues with their image policy, including censorship problems and irate users whose innocuous photos were taken down by overzealous monitors. Images are only one part of the Facebook puzzle, but for Instagram it is the whole package. Stories about underage kids posting lewd pictures of themselves at the prompting of older men are starting to surface. Under age users form a large portion of the cell-phone using, Instagram-posting public. What responsibilities does the media sharing application have to those kids who have posted images of themselves willingly despite the danger?

In Facebook’s case, there are mechanisms already put in place to monitor activity for safety and taste. But what does Instagram have? The average user may not know, meaning either that they can be more easily taken advantage of or may not know how to fight back when they are being harassed. Take for instance the case out of North Carolina in which an 18-year-old male was caught posting nude pictures of local girls on Instagram, some of whom were underage. The suspect was charged not only for the posted pictures, but for harassing a 12-year-old girl and asking for nude pictures of her.The site he used was apparently not involved in the investigation and the offender was found through an internet protocol (IP) address.

In an instance like this, the lingering question is about Instagram and what they are doing to prevent this from happening again. While there is a burden of responsibility on users to report bad behavior and not to engage in such reprehensible behavior, there should also be a responsibility on the provider of the service to watch out for those who use it. Facebook learned that a long time ago and has done something to address the issue, even if it does seem a little ham-handed at times. On this issue, the younger social media site has some catching up to do.

According to a report, Instagram has 40 million mobile users, a whopping 3 million more users than Twitter has on its mobile platform. Among these users are people like octogenarian grandmother Betty Jo Simpson, whose username is grandmabetty33. This grand old lady has over 481,000 followers on Instagram who are treated to wonderfully humorous photos of her with a blue tongue from eating candy or a video of her dressed up like a boxer, an ode to her own ongoing battle with cancer. Betty is an inspiration to many and just generally heartwarming to anyone who hears about her. She had to learn how to take her own selfies from her grandson and now she is a force to be reckoned with, sending messages of hope and humor to the masses.

instagramThere are many good people on Instagram, like Grandma Betty and there is no doubt that they are the ones doing it right, but there are still some who are using it for less than admirable purposes. One fascinating story that again sparks more questions about responsibility is about the only user that the American rapper known as Young Thug follows on Instagram. This user is a fantastically, almost comically, wealthy man living in Dubai with a surprisingly large menagerie of exotic pets that he likes to pose with at every opportunity. One such pet is actually a tiger with whom this man posed, holding the animal on a leash while the jungle cat stood on the roof of a very expensive Bentley.

There’s nothing wrong with posing in a way that accentuates all the cool stuff someone has, even if that makes everyone think they are a bit stuck on themselves. People are allowed to be impressed with themselves and to attempt to impress others. What isn’t okay, however, is using the image presented via a social platform like Instagram to solicit sex from someone who does not want it. Which is exactly what this user did to a female journalist who wanted to ask about being Young Thug’s only subscription. The story starts out bad and gets worse as the journalist is hit on repeatedly (and rather badly) and is harassed even after she stopped communicating with him.

This is the issue of who is using a site and what are they using it for. Showing off is totally fine. However, if the goal of that shameless self-promotion is to inappropriately solicit sex, there might be a little bit of a problem with that. Not only is it inappropriate, it is dangerous when one realizes that there are millions of underage kids using this application. Admittedly, there is little that Instagram can do if people use other sites connected to their  accounts in order to solicit others or engage in inappropriate behavior.

Once again, someone has created an internet innovation and created more moral and ethical from modern day people. There is no clear cut answer to any of these questions, nor will there probably ever be. That should not stop people from asking about and discussing these issues, however. The only way to move forward towards any kind of constructive guideline is to continue the dialogue about it.

That is exactly what happened when Joe Budden, an American rapper and member of the hip-hop group Slaughterhouse, posted a picture of a Sikh man wearing a turban preparing to go through security at an airport. The picture was captioned with “not on my watch homeboy,” a comment immediately labeled racist by many. What happened next was a form of dialogue between Joe Budden and a critic from Twitter. The two traded tweets for a while, with the criticizer having to compare the situation to use of the n-word and remind the music artist that two wrongs do not make a right. Eventually, Joe Budden removed the picture, at the behest of this critic and perhaps others who were similarly outraged.

The story of Joe Budden’s removal of the image and its racist comment is a sign of what can happen when people refuse to give up on a topic they feel strongly about. It is not just racism that there is a problem with, but harassment, soliciting, and the needless exposure of minors to situations they should never be in. While this is not the entirety of its existence, it is still a part that the social media app is going to have to deal with, especially in light of its growing popularity. The stories coming out of Instagram, about the man arrested for soliciting nude pictures from a minor or even Grandma Betty’s heartwarming campaign against cancer, all spark questions about responsibility in this age of technology. How people answer those questions depends a lot on how much they continue to dialogue with each other and find practical solutions to the problems that arise.

Opinion By Lydia Webb


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