Teens Encounter Troubling Issues Most Often on Instagram, Their Favorite App

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VISR analysis finds that 43% of teens experience inappropriate images and languages, twice as many as Facebook, Gmail, and Twitter

In a new analysis of data garnered from more than 4,000 families using its app, predictive wellness startup VISR revealed that 43 percent of kids using Instagram—their favorite social media channel—have encountered issues like explicit language, nudity, and sexual content on the image-sharing app. VISR, which analyzes kids’ social media activity and alerts parents to incipient problems, found that more than 20 percent of children using its app have experienced one or more real issues of concern to parents while on Twitter, Gmail, Facebook, and other social media outlets.

By analyzing social media trends among active users who have received and responded to a VISR alert at least once, the company found that more kids had experienced issues while on Instagram than on any other social media channel. The analysis showed that Instagram, as the top choice of all teens who are active VISR users, is most popular with 12 to 14-year-olds, at 46 percent; followed by 14 -to 16-year-olds, at 44 percent; 10- to 12-year-olds, at 39 percent; and 16- to 18-year-olds, at 38 percent.

Twitter, at 36 percent, had the second-highest occurrences of young users coming across problematic content, followed by Gmail at 35 percent, and Facebook at 33 percent.

Clinical psychologist Tracy Bennett, Ph.D., founder of the website Get Kids Internet Safe, says that “inappropriate peer contact, including peer nude selfies,” has become a major concern. “Kids need to understand that once it’s online, other parents, teachers, administrators, college admission officers, even future employers will have their eyes on that stuff.” Dr. Bennett advises parents against giving children complete freedom when they first start using social media, even though “parents want to trust their kids.” But because the adolescent brain isn’t fully developed, teens are literally not wired “to see the consequences, to see into the future. They’re not equipped to handle full privacy yet.”

In VISR’s latest findings, sexual content emerged as the number-one issue of concern among children in all age groups, affecting 25 percent of 8- and 9-year-olds, 23 percent of 10- to 13-year olds, and 24 percent of 14- and 15-year olds. It was the top issue for 16- and 17-year olds as well, albeit a smaller percentage of them at 7 percent. In addition to sexual content, issues flagged for alerts include substance use (e.g., tobacco, alcohol, and drugs), bullying, mental health, safety, violence, and health. The app also serves as a critical early warning system for mental health issues by detecting indications of potential problems like depression, eating disorders, and self-harm.

“The fact that troubling issues can permeate even a great social network like Instagram is a strong signal to parents,” VISR CEO Robert S. Reichmann says. “Our solution gives parents insight into their children’s online activities and interactions so they can address any issues their kids are facing before they become more complex and harder to resolve. We see VISR as a fusion of technology and parental instinct—an essential tool of 21st-century parenting that can keep kids safe and healthy in the online world.”

The analysis also identified the percentage of adolescents viewing, “liking,” sending, and/or receiving sexual content, possible nudity, explicit language, possible bullying, and possible substance use, along with behaviors like posting their location and late-night usage. The highest number of alerts went to parents of 8- to 10-year-olds who had viewed possible nudity (26 percent) and sexual content (17 percent). For 10- to 12-year-olds, viewing sexual content triggered the highest number of alerts (15 percent), while liking explicit language triggered alerts for 15 percent of 12- to 14-year-olds and 20 percent of 14- to 16-year-olds. The majority of alerts among 16- to 18-year-olds, at 24 percent, were triggered by late-night usage.

VISR’s technology combines machine learning, text analysis, and image recognition to power an analysis engine that employs 100 natural language processing classifiers across 23 distinct alert categories. The system identifies crucial, often subtle indicators of potential issues, and immediately notifies parents through VISR’s family dashboard when issues arise. The dashboard also helps parents recognize their child’s behavioral trends and patterns over time. The system uses learning algorithms to grow “smarter” and more relevant to parents over time; thus when parents respond to alerts, VISR is able to tailor future alerts based on their preferences and parenting style.

Along with Instagram, VISR analyzes social media activity on Facebook, Gmail, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube, with more platforms planned for future release. To date, the VISR engine has analyzed millions of social media posts and identified tens of thousands of serious issues triggering parental alerts.

The VISR app is currently available on both Google Play and Apple online stores.

About VISR
VISR (ˈvīzər) is a predictive wellness startup on a mission to help kids stay safe and healthy, by fusing technology with parental instinct. Powered by data and machine learning, VISR is an app that alerts parents to issues their kids face online. The company was founded in 2014 by a team of parents and technologists who love innovation and want it to work towards a better world for their children. VISR is funded by Horizons Ventures and the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Centres of Excellence.

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Emily Kanter
Propel Strategic Communications
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