The following originally appeared on Medium.
Does it have it be this way?
We know you’re busy, but come on. At least give parents an email address that they can use to contact you.
Since we wrote How to Contact Instagram – It’s Difficult, Even for Parents of Minors on the blog of our ThirdParent site last year, we’ve gotten dozens of emails from parents asking for help getting underage Instagram accounts deleted.
You might think that’s a strange problem to have. If the parent wants the Instagram account gone, can’t she just tell the kid to delete it? It turns out that it’s not that simple.
First of all, some kids refuse to delete the account, claiming they forgot the password or email address that they used when they set it up. Other kids actually did fat finger the email address and/or password when they set up the account and can’t access it any more, but their pictures are still up there. That’s possible because Instagram doesn’t care which email address you use when you sign up; new accounts are activated without having to click a confirmation email. Instagram doesn’t care about how old you are either, unless you actually post on their site that you’re under 13.
If a parent does contact Instagram via their Help Center page (the only option), Instagram will not reply, nor are they required to. In our experience, they will delete the account if there is proof in the profile or pictures that the child is under 13. If there isn’t proof, no dice.
If the minor is between 13 and 17 and doesn’t violate Instagram’s Terms of Service, parents are really out of luck. Instagram will not respond to inquiries, requests or complaints from parents or anyone else.
Here is one of many emails we’ve gotten recently:
I have been trying for weeks to get my son’s Instagram account deleted. He signed on without my permission and he is only 10 years old. When he opened the account he messed up the email address so when we try to reset the password it goes to an email that does not exist… leaving it impossible to sign onto the account and delete it. I have reported my son to Instagram literally 12 times! They do not respond, remove or acknowledge any of my requests…Can you please help me and tell me what I can do. He does have a few pictures of himself on there and knowing that makes my stomach sick.
Thank you for your help.”
We have no idea whether the person who wrote that email is genuine, but even if it is the child’s mother, our answer would be the same, which is: Unless there is proof in the account that the user is under 13, or the user violates Instagram’s Terms of Service, they will not respond. Sorry.
At the risk of sounding all Catcher in the Rye here, we really want to help these parents cope with these situations and get the result that they want.
Interestingly, Instagram’s Help Center has a link to a document called A Parent’s Guide to Instagram. The document was created by an organization called ConnectSafely.org but since Instagram’s own Help Center links to it, we’re guessing they either funded or contributed to it, or both. You might assume that such a document would have a section titled “How To Contact Instagram”? Nope.
Instagram might care if your child is being cyberbullied, or has posted revealing pictures, or personal details like her phone number, but they certainly don’t act like they do. What they do instead is claim that they are prohibited from acting by privacy laws:
“We appreciate your concern for your child’s use of our app, but unfortunately we can’t give you access to the account or take any action on the account at your request. We’re generally forbidden by privacy laws against giving unauthorized access to someone who isn’t an account holder. Please note that all users ages 13 and older are considered authorized account holders and are included in the scope of this policy.”
Are they really “forbidden by privacy laws” from responding to a valid request from a parent of a minor? If that is so, the law needs to change. If that is the interpretation of the law that Instagram is hiding behind so as not to have to delete user accounts, that is unacceptable.
Instagram is an absolute magnet for teens and tweens, and robbing parents of the ability to exert some influence after accounts have been created falls far short of what is “right”. It is time for this to change.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.
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