The next creepy Instagram trend: Teen beauty contests

rate me IGEvery social network has a dark side, and Instagram is no exception. While the photo-sharing platform generally keeps things pretty tame, one new trend is concerning: Child beauty pageants. Yes, it’s Toddlers n’ Tiaras meets photoblogging – and yes, that’s a scary combination.

According to the Washington Post, thousands of young girls around the ages of 12 to 13 are posting photos of themselves and asking the age old Internet question: “Hot or not?” A quick look at the photos with the #beautycontest, #beautypageant, #rankme, #rateme, and #amipretty hashtags will reveal the many young users looking for Instagram’s judgement, and some of the cruel or lewd comments that follow.

Some of the photos are individual users asking for Instagram’s opinion; others feature a group of faces to be pitted against one another, looking to know which one is the best looking.

Using Instagram search clients like Statigram bring up between hundreds to thousands of photos in these categories, and this means all of these photos are public as well. Instagram’s privacy settings are fairly simple: You either list your account as private so only followers you approve can see your images … or you leave it entirely public. And if Instagram is being allowed to add these to its Photo Maps feature, then these young users are inviting strangers not only to judge their looks but to also find out where they are located.

Like Facebook, Instagram doesn’t allow anyone younger than 13 on the app … but like Facebook, plenty of users are under this age limit. And plenty of those participating in this trend are linking to their Tumblrs, their Facebook accounts, and their Twitter accounts, providing more information to anyone who stumbles upon their photos.

But the consequences obviously go beyond privacy worries (although those shouldn’t be taken lightly). The fact that young users are deriving self worth from these “contests” is concerning. As we’ve learned time and time again, the Internet can be a terrible place, and some of the comments on these photos read like something out of the Mean Girls’ “Burn Book.” We’re well aware of the lengths Web and social media bullying can be taken to, so anyone with impressionable, Instagramming kids might want to take a look at their uploaded photos.

Instagram says it knows about the issue and responded with the following statement: “We are aware this is a trend taking place on virtually every media platform that teens engage with. We work hard to make Instagram a safe, interesting and vibrant place for teens to spend time and express their creativity through photos. As with other social products, we encourage parents to take an active role in understanding what their kids are posting and who they are sharing with.”

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