instagram storiesInstagram, the popular photo and video-sharing app, reached 500 million users earlier this summer, and as the number of people using the app continues to change, so do some of its features. Earlier this year, we saw Instagram unroll its push notifications option and in the beginning of August, it announced a new feature called Stories. For those familiar with another popular social media app called Snapchat, Instagram’s new feature is almost identical to Snapchat’s Stories feature. While the Instagram’s Stories feature might not yet be available to all of the app’s users, as Instagram is still rolling out this feature for iOS and Android devices, it’s important to understand how it works and how it might affect your privacy.

What is it and how does it work?

Your Instagram Story can be either a photo or video you upload to your profile that’s visible on the app for 24 hours before it disappears. To add something to your Story, you’ll need to tap the plus button icon in the top left-hand side of your home page, and you can then take a photo or video to add. You also have the option to upload a recent photo or video that was saved to your phone in the last 24 hours, but you cannot upload photos or videos that are older than 24 hours, as the app won’t let you go that far back in your phone’s camera roll. When you have successfully uploaded a Story, a colorful circle will appear around your Instagram profile picture to notify your followers that you have posted a Story. If you want the Story to disappear before 24 hours, which is the maximum length of time it can be posted, you can delete it on your own. You also have the option to add multiple photos or videos to your Story, which will play in a slideshow format to your followers.

Unlike regular Instagram posts, there are no likes or comments on Stories, but there are direct messages. Here’s how it works: when you post a Story, one of your followers can send you a message while viewing your Story, but they won’t be able to leave a public comment on it for others to see. You can also select who’s allowed to send you a message in response to your Story if you want a bit more privacy. The three options Instagram currently offers are everyone (which allows everyone with an Instagram account to message you), people you follow (which only allows those Instagram accounts you follow to message you) or off (which prohibits anyone from sending you a message). Instagram also keeps a log of your viewers so you can see which Instagram users have viewed your Story. This viewers list can only be seen by you and not the rest of your Instagram followers.

instagram stories

Should I be concerned about my privacy?

When someone you follow posts an Instagram Story, you’ll begin to see the Stories at the top of your feed in a horizontal bar. You can watch them all as a slideshow at once — they automatically play in sequential order after you click on one — or you can choose to watch some Stories and skip over others. The same way you can view Stories of the people you follow, all your followers can also see whatever you post to your Story. That means anyone who already follows you and anyone who goes to your profile without being your follower (if your Instagram account is public) can see your Story. All they have to do is look you up by your username, which can be a bit worrisome if you don’t want your Stories viewable to the public.

It’s important to note that there is a way to prevent certain followers from seeing your Story, but this security feature is rather limited. You can change who you hide your Story from, but you can only select from your list of current followers. So if someone doesn’t follow you and your account is public, they can still view your Story and you have no way to prevent this.

What can I do to protect my privacy?

If you’re an Instagram user who’s considering using this new Story feature, there are a couple of things you can do to protect your profile (besides limiting who views and responds to your Story posts). First, you’ll want to go through your friends list and unfollow anyone who you do not personally know. It should be noted that if you unfollow someone, they can still follow you, which means they still have access to your Instagram profile and Stories (unless you limit who views them). Unfortunately, Instagram does not have a way for you to request or force someone to unfollow you, but you do have the option to block that follower. Similarly, you may want to consider setting your account to private, which requires you to approve followers before they can view your Instagram account. You can change this setting by clicking on the three vertical dots at the top right of your Instagram profile on an Android device or a pinwheel in the top right of your profile on an iOS device, then scroll down and turn Private on. It should be noted that doing this will not apply to current followers, so if you wish to have some of them unfollow you, blocking them is your best option.

instagram stories

How can I protect my children using Instagram and Instagram Stories?

It’s important you talk to your children about practicing safe social media behavior and the dangers of posting personal information online. Because Instagram allows virtually anyone with an account to send messages with Stories, you should make sure this setting is limited to just your children’s followers or disable the direct message setting with Stories altogether (see the top image). It’s also a good idea to make your children’s Instagram account private (see the image above), so that you can better monitor who follows them and ensure that they are only accepting people they know in real life. Follow our parental control blog to learn more about how you can help keep your kids safe on social media.