I came across an interesting post on The Privacy Dad’s Blog titled Kids & Screens: Should I Raise Privacy Concerns with the School. It begins with a TikTok story, but I have punted TikTok on this site plenty. For once, it was not TikTok that arrested my attention, but Instagram. Now I have not written much about Instagram here at The New Leaf Journal other than my recommending Pixelfed as an alternative in a Pixelfed review and humorous dialogue. While I did have a Facebook account for about a year and a half some 15 years ago, I have never had an Instagram account. My only recent exposure has been when a friend sends a link and I cannot open it because I do not have an account.

Screenshot of the Instagram login page in the Badwolf web browser.
This is as far as I can get in Instagram.

I am alright with that.

Anyway, Instagram resides with Facebook under the Meta umbrella. It comes with all the general Facebook problems. Why anyone would use it I know not. But they do. Before reading The Privacy Dad article, I assumed that it was generally understood that Instagram was not an educational tool.

I was wrong. I quote Privacy Dad:

I am disappointed when my children’s teachers create assignments that require an Instagram account to complete. Not only does this go against the legal age limitations, I find the assumption that all students and their families have social media accounts short-sighted.

Privacy Dad

Come again? Teachers are incorporating Instagram into school assignments?

I was going to speak up on this but the child who was given the task to upload photo’s of the city to an Instagram account found their own solution, which was to use a friend’s account.

Privacy Dad

When you think about it, children sharing Instagram accounts could cause problems. But I digress. All problems could be avoided if teachers did not give assignments involving the use of commercial social media platforms.

(Note: Privacy Dad was focused on considering whether he should have complained. I will not tackle that issue in this article since I see no need to second guess his decision when he has a clear understanding of the issues and is the one who actually had to deal with the school officials. As you will see, my focus is elsewhere.)

Back in 2023 when I was annoyed about Microsoft Bing’s search engine arbitrarily blacklisting this site from search results, I wrote an article attacking Microsoft for trying to shove an app called Microsoft Reflect into classrooms. That app would have students tell a cartoon character about their feelings so teachers could see what the kids were feeling. Somehow, adding more screens to classrooms would absolve teachers from interacting with and getting to know their students. Moreover, as I found while reading the materials, adults were supposed to use this app too to gain personal insight! I concluded that Microsoft, as well as other big tech companies such as Google and Apple with an interest in education are pushing to make kids dependent on their respective hardware and software ecosystems.

But at least Microsoft and its big tech rivals try to make educational apps to achieve their ends. Has Meta ever claimed that Instagram is an educational app?

I asked myself how a teacher would think it is appropriate to require Instagram usage for a class assignment. To be sure, being a teacher, like most professions, does not require one to be especially bright or otherwise be in possession of what would have been considered common sense 15 years ago. But more than that – I would guess that it did not even occur to the teachers in The Privacy Dad post that there was anything weird about insisting that kids use Instagram for a class assignment (note it would be weird even if the kids in question were older than 13).

I am not that old – I have largely dated myself in articles about my history with video games – but I have a frame of reference of what the world was like before phones and social media. As I have explained, I did not have a phone fancier than a BlackBerry Classic until 2021 and even now I only use open source apps. Before the iPhone was a thing, I did not meaningfully have home internet until 2006 (I typed a few early high school assignments on my Windows 95 and brought them to school on a floppy disk). You will have teachers coming up now who have no meaningful frame of reference of life without a smart phone and proprietary adware social media presence – essentially putting them on equal footing with most (not all, but most) of their students. I will add that phones appear to have destroyed the non-phone frame of reference for some people who should have it; I have seen many people who appear to be in their 50s, if not older, completely glued to their phones while meandering across New York City streets.

Assuming arguendo that there are some adults in charge of major U.S. school systems (I do not see much evidence here but perhaps in some places there are), the lesson from The Privacy Dad article is that the adults should not take anything for granted with respect to teachers understanding what is appropriate and inappropriate regarding social media in the classroom. Schools and school system should establish clear, unequivocal guidance establishing beyond doubt that social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (do any kids use that?), Snapchat (is that even social media?), Tumblr (please no), TikTok (should be banned, but that is a separate matter), YouTube, and the like have no place in the classroom or in class assignments (with respect to YouTube, I think it should be disqualified only to the extent that schools should not give assignments that in any way depend on a student having a YouTube account). It is bad enough that companies that treat consumers as products – even paying consumers – are being called upon for educational software and services. We can at least separate social media from the classroom.