Instagram Reels: What parents should know

Instagram has released its answer to social media sensation, TikTok. The new feature, called Reels, is a short-form viral video feature that is focused on getting involved in global video trends. Here is everything that parents need to know about Reels.

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Written by Cyber Expert:

Teodora Pavkovic


Over the past few years, the social media landscape has changed drastically. Traditional use of social media was really focused on connecting and sharing with friends. But it’s 2020, and social media has evolved entirely. It’s the short-form viral entertainment video genre that has exploded across social media, with kids and teens flocking to this genre in the (hundreds of) millions. 

The most popular app of this kind is one that everybody knows. TikTok’s popularity with children and teens is undeniable, with Android TikTok users alone spending 68 billion hours on the app in 2019. In the US, users open TikTok an average of eight times a day. It’s no surprise then that Instagram decided that it was time that they stepped into the space of viral-videos.

Enter, Instagram Reels.

How does it work?

Reels allows users to create short, 15-second videos that can be shared only with your followers, or can be made public and shared with the broader Instagram community in the Explore section. Videos are edited with audio and visual effects, and other creative tools such as filters,  and backgrounds.

The Reels feature is a little different from what Instagram has been known for in the past. Digressing from the personal lifestyle genre, Reels is far more reflective of community entertainment content.

Reels is all about posting creative or entertaining content, and being involved in global trends such as dance challenges or parodies. The audience of a user’s posts can be extended far beyond just their followers, but to Instagram’s broader public audience. The general flavor of Reels is to get involved in global trends that are present on the platform, and viewing and sharing content with the one billion active monthly users on Instagram.

So, to answer what you’re all thinking: Yes, Reels is the Instagram equivalent of TikTok. While it works in the same way, Reels has some interesting differences to TikTok that our experts are intrigued by.

What do the experts think?

Because of the nature of viral-video sharing features, trending content is not always inappropriate or may send the ‘wrong messages’ to young people. An infamous example was the ‘George Floyd’ challenge seen on TikTok earlier in 2020. The trend was removed from the platform, but not before it gained a lot of traction with young people.

Instagram claims to address these potential issues with moderation of content that is completed by humans, and not solely by AI. This means that actual human beings are reviewing trends and ensuring that the content is likely to have a positive impact on young people’s wellbeing.

Another advantage of Reels is that the feature will utilize the existing privacy protections that Instagram already has on its platform. Proactive detection technology will be used to identify potentially violating content. Privacy controls also give young people options to manage their account privacy, direct messaging, tagging, and mentions, as well as use the existing block, mute, and restrict settings.

With a strong vision for well-being and positive content curation being prioritized by Instagram, Reels may be a beneficial alternative to viral-video content. We expect Reels to evolve over time, so we are waiting eagerly to see how these security measures look in practice.

Are there any points that I need to worry about?

Because Reels is focused on connecting with the global community, appropriateness of content and privacy are two points that parents need to be mindful of. For teenagers who are savvy about protecting their personal information and safeguarding their digital reputation, Reels should be a feature that they can navigate safely.

For children, however, Reels poses an issue. The exposure to potentially adult content. If the content on TikTok is anything to go by, sexual comments, glorification of drugs and alcohol, and general mature themes are commonplace. This type of content on popular forums can normalize mature behaviors, and young children often replicate these behaviors to fit in with the global trend. A prime example of this in August 2020 is the WAP (meaning ‘wet a** p***y’) dance challenge that is spiraling on TikTok. Highly sexualized dance moves being replicated by children is to a lesser extent just uncomfortable to watch, and to a greater extent dangerous to enticing online predators.

In regards to teenagers, parents should be teaching their teens about the importance of digital footprints. There are often trends on TikTok in particular about revealing secrets or posting content that is personal or risque. Remembering that all content posted is there forever and is a reflection of a teen’s online reputation may help deter them from posting videos that expose their sexual predilections, drugs of choice, or ‘story time’ videos about bad decisions they have made (and yes, these are all commonly posted content on video-sharing apps).

Another point that kids should know about is privacy settings. One of the main limitations that we see with Reels is that if young people have their accounts on Private, then their videos will only be seen by their followers, and not placed on the Explore page for the public to see. Given that the purpose of Reels is to contribute to global trends, we suspect that kids may forgo their privacy settings and change their profiles to Public in order to feature their Reels videos in the public area.

We hope this feature changes to allow videos to be made public and not their entire profile (a little like what Facebook allows people to do), but for now, we see this as a risk to be aware of.

Final thoughts on Reels

For now, we see Reels as a potentially safer alternative to TikTok, particularly due to the claim that content on Reels will be curated by a human and solely by an algorithm. This may mean that the content is less likely to be inappropriate or undermine a young person’s well-being.

On the flip side, the inability to share Reels publicly if account settings are private may lend itself to young people forgoing their privacy settings in order to join in on global trends.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on this one, but for now, we are optimistic about this new feature by Instagram.

Further information


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