I heard of a shocking revelation in one of my psychosocial support sessions of how Instagram “influence” took a negative toll on some children’s well-being in a town in Nigeria. The children became obsessed with likes and comments, constantly comparing themselves to their peers and feeling inadequate. One girl named Emma fell victim to the pressures, spending hours editing and filtering her photos to meet unrealistic beauty standards.
The desire for validation led to anxiety and stress, as they sought external approval through their virtual lives. Moreover, the children’s perception of reality became distorted, believing everyone else’s lives were perfect while feeling dissatisfied with their own. Real-life relationships suffered as they prioritized capturing the perfect image over genuine connections.
Though in recent years, social media platforms have become powerful tools for communication, networking, and self-expression. However, these platforms also pose significant risks, particularly when it comes to the exploitation of vulnerable individuals, such as children. Instagram, the popular photo and video-sharing social media platform, has become an integral part of many people’s and mostly children’s lives.
Researchers at a US university’s Cyber Policy Centre have highlighted the alarming presence of extensive networks of accounts, seemingly operated by minors, openly promoting and selling self-generated child sexual abuse material. Instagram, with its recommendation algorithms and direct messaging features, is identified as the primary platform facilitating these networks.
According to the Journal, a straightforward search using sexually explicit keywords related to children leads to accounts utilising such terms to advertise content depicting the sexual abuse of minors. A recent article published by the Nigeria Channels Television further expands on the issue.
It confirms the Journal’s findings, explaining that the identified profiles often assert to be driven by the children themselves, employing overtly sexual aliases. While not explicitly stating the sale of these explicit images, these accounts display menus with options, including specific sexual acts.
Instagram, with over a billion active users worldwide provides platform for self-expression, creativity, and social connection. However, like any online platform, Instagram is not immune to abuse. In Nigeria, the rise of Instagram has unfortunately brought us an alarming increase in the use of the platform by pedophiles.
Concerns have been raised about the misuse of Instagram by individuals with malicious intent, particularly in relation to child safety. Examples are pedophiles which are individuals who experiences a sexual attraction or interest primarily or exclusively towards prepubescent children, generally aged 13 years or younger.
The Rise of Pedophile Activity on Instagram in Nigeria
In 2019, a heartbreaking incident caught public attention when Masenengen Targba, a 10-year-old girl, gave birth to a baby girl at a hospital in Makurdi, Benue State. The news quickly went viral, shedding light on the distressing circumstances surrounding the situation.
Tragically, the rapist responsible for this heinous act against the minor remains unidentified and continues to evade justice. Masenengen, who is reported to be an orphan, had relocated to the North Bank area of Makurdi with her uncle prior to the incident, where she was subjected to the horrific assault that resulted in her pregnancy.
Also, in December 2020, ALJazeera reported on a distressing incident involving a young boy who fell victim to molestation at the hands of a tailor and his friends. The unfortunate events took place during a partial coronavirus lockdown that had commenced in March.
The boy, who was a minor, disclosed that he was acquainted with the perpetrators, a group of men in their early 20s residing in same local community he lives. For months, he endured the harrowing experience in silence, consumed by fear. The abusers employed manipulative tactics, offering him sweets and money while issuing a chilling warning that speaking up would result in the death of his entire family.
Nigeria, like many other countries, has witnessed a distressing surge in pedophile activity and even on Instagram. The factors contributing to this alarming trend are multifaceted. Firstly, the widespread adoption of smartphones and increased internet accessibility has allowed more Nigerians, including children, to use social media platforms. This expanded user base inadvertently creates more opportunities for perpetrators to exploit unsuspecting victims.
Secondly, the lack of effective age verification mechanisms on Instagram has exacerbated this problem. While the platform requires users to confirm they are at least 13 years old, it largely relies on self-reporting, making it easy for underage individuals to create accounts. This loophole has grave consequences, as it provides a haven for pedophiles to interact with potential victims undetected.
While it is crucial to address these concerns, it is equally important to maintain a balanced perspective on the issue. It is essential to acknowledge that while some individuals with nefarious intentions may misuse Instagram, they represent a minority among the vast user base. Instances of pedophiles using Instagram to target minors are indeed alarming and deserve attention, but it is crucial not to generalize and stigmatize the entire platform.
While this media platform is “free for all.” Instagram, like other social media platforms, has a multitude of legitimate and positive use cases. It recognises its role in promoting a safe online environment, particularly for its younger users.
The platform has implemented several measures to combat inappropriate behaviour, including the following: Instagram sets a minimum age requirement of 13 years to create an account, in compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the United States and similar regulations in other countries.
Instagram provides reporting tools that enable users to flag inappropriate content or accounts engaging in suspicious activities. The platform also employs a combination of automated systems and human moderation to review reported content and take appropriate action. They also offer robust privacy settings, allowing users to control who can view their posts and interact with them.
Users can choose to make their account private, limit direct messages to followers, and filter comments. Also it actively promotes digital literacy and safety education through partnerships with organizations and campaigns focused on online safety, cyberbullying prevention, and parental guidance.
However, ensuring child safety on Instagram requires a collective effort involving not only the platform but also parents, guardians, educators, and society as a whole. Parents should maintain an open dialogue with their children about online safety, establish guidelines for social media usage, and monitor their activities to the extent appropriate.
Familiarising themselves with the platform’s features and privacy settings can help parents better protect their children. Schools and educational institutions play a crucial role in promoting digital literacy among students.
Teaching young individuals about responsible online behaviour, the potential risks of social media and how to stay safe online can empower them to make informed choices. Users should report any suspicious or inappropriate behaviour they encounter on Instagram promptly. By reporting such incidents, users contribute to the collective effort of maintaining a safer online environment.
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