How To

How to Use Instagram Safely

By Sydney Butler / April 20, 2018

Instagram is a massively popular social media platform where everything revolves around photographs. This core concept has been built into a robust product that young people, in particular, have flocked to. Folk like to share pictures of their hobbies, holidays, experiences and more often than not, their food.

It’s not all fun and games though. Instagram, like all social media, provides a way for people with ill intent to do you harm. It can lead to breaches of privacy, security and even job losses. So if you really want to hang with the cool people on Instagram, here are some ways you can stay safe and still avoid that FOMO.

Understand the Difference Between Public and Private on Instagram

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Instagram lets you have one of two modes for your account. A public account is one that’s open to anyone. They can look at your profile, all your pictures, and comment. If you want to be a public figure who draws as many followers as possible, this is the sort of profile you want. It’s also the default, which means if you’ve never changed any settings your Instagram account it’s currently public.

You can change it to private using any of the mobile apps, but not from a desktop computer. Once you do these only people who you have manually approved can see your posts and comment on them. If you’re looking for large numbers of followers this is pretty impractical, but if you just want to share with a small group of friends and family, a private account is a way to go.

Use Reporting and Moderation Tools When Dealing with Bullies

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If you do stick with a public account and pick up poor behavior from commenters you have some options. As we said in our cyberbullying guide, it’s best not to actually engage with trolls and bullies. No matter how badly you want to respond, it’s best just to remove the comment and block the user. It’s your profile and there’s no reason to entertain jerks.

Are You Comfortable With Your Photos Being in the Public Eye?


Being such a photo-centric platform, it’s easy to post stuff that really should have been deleted or kept completely private. Think about who is likely to see the photo that you’re about to post. What would your boss think? How about your parents, friends or children. Could a criminal use details in the photo to victimize you? Smartphones make it quick and easy to snap a photo and share it with the world, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pause a moment before hitting the “share” button.

People Can Find You By Phone Number, But You Need it for 2FA

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Two-factor authentication is one of the most secure ways to stop people from hacking your account. In the case of Instagram you can provide them with your phone number and then every login requires verification.

I’d almost always recommend activating 2FA on every account you have, but when it comes to Instagram there’s a bit of a wrinkle to this decision. You see if someone already knows your phone number they can actually search for your profile. That’s a problem when you don’t want people finding your account despite having an alias.

This leaves you with only a few options. Think about who has your number. If it includes people you’d rather not have identifying your Instagram account you either need a second number or you’ll have to go without 2FA.

In either case, make sure you have a strong password and consider using a password manager.

Be Very Careful About Requests for Photos

Your followers might start doing more than just appreciating your photos. If you’re running an Instagram account as a model or that includes images of you, some people might request photos of a predatory nature. While this could come across as flattering in some cases, giving in to such requests opens you up to abuse. If someone is asking you for inappropriate photos on Instagram you should block and report them. If it’s someone you know in real life, you can consider approaching the police or other relevant authority.

Review Your List of Followers Regularly

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It’s a good idea to go through your list of followers carefully from time to time. Instagram has a lot of dodgy stuff going on when it comes to followers. There are plenty of fake accounts, for one thing, not to mention exploitative accounts.

Even worse, some followers who neglect or abandon their accounts have them taken over by hackers. Which means someone you approved in good faith might end up spamming your feeds with offensive or irritating nonsense.

Obviously curating followers on a massive public account isn’t really practical, but if you have a modest following you should take the time to prune the list every now and then.

Disable Geo-tagging and Location Sharing

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Audit Your Personal Info

How much information do you really need to put into your profile? If you’re a public figure there’s no harm in putting information in your profile that everyone knows anyway. Those of us who aren’t Kim Kardashian should, however, think twice about how much we give away.

A good trick is to take all the keywords in your profile and paste them into Google. See if the search brings up results that can be traced back to your home, place of work or other very private information. If that’s the case you might want to change the wording or remove terms that can lead people back to you in real life.

Don’t Use Your Real Name

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Instagram does not demand that you use your real name. With the option to remain anonymous, you have a very important decision to make. Do you really need to use your real name on Instagram? It all depends on why you want to use the service. If all you want to do is share cool things with people then you can use a company name or a themed alias. If you are promoting yourself then you can use a stage name. The only real situation where using your real name is reasonable is on private accounts where you only allow trusted followers. Family accounts are one example.

Don’t Use Your Face as a Profile Picture

It might be tempting to use your face as a profile picture, but there are actually quite a few reasons to avoid this. For one thing, even if your account is private your profile picture isn’t. Armed with a photo of you and perhaps an account name linked to your real identity, it’s simple to use reverse image search and find that same or similar picture elsewhere. If you absolutely must use your face for a profile picture, use a unique one that hasn’t been posted anywhere else.

Think Twice About Linked Accounts

Social Media Icons

Instagram allows you to automatically share your photos to other social media accounts if you enable the option when you post. You need to link those accounts to your Instagram account for it to work. Is this a good idea? That depends on circumstances, but obviously, if you cross-post from your Instagram account to Facebook or Twitter you are exposing yourself by multiplying the available information on yourself. You are confirming a link between two online identities. The sharing is simply a convenience. You could choose to manually repost your Instagram content on your other accounts without letting on that you own the account rather than just being a follower.

A Picture is Worth a 1000 Words

Instagram is a great service and honestly comes with much less drama than Facebook. At the same time, it presents unique privacy and safety challenges. It makes it easy to accidentally compromise yourself when all you wanted to do is share something cool. All you need is a little knowledge and a change in mindset.

You should also refrain from using public WiFi hotspots while posting to social media. You never know who might be listening in or intercepting your information. Regardless of which social media you use, get a reliable VPN service such as ExpressVPN installed on your smartphone. It’s the best way to hide your identity and location. Which means you can brave the internet with full confidence.

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