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Teens, privacy and social media

The following is a guest contribution from Andree Wright, the Acting Children’s eSafety Commissioner.

At the eSafety Office we see first-hand many of the great benefits of being online. Sadly, we also see some of the negatives.

Our cyberbullying complaints service reflects one of the most damaging, and common, experiences for children and teens:  serious cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can be an overwhelming and emotional experience. It can include serious name calling, nasty comments and offensive or upsetting photos posted on social media services. While this continues to be an issue, most recently we’ve also seen a rise in complaints related to sexting and the sharing of intimate photos without consent.

But how can we help?

Protecting personal information online—for both teens and their parents—has never been more important. With an abundance of different social apps, using your location and accessing your photo gallery, it can be hard to keep up. There are, however, some simple ways to protect yourself.  

For some tips on how best to protect yourself on some of the popular social apps teenagers use, read on.


Photo and video-sharing platform Instagram recently introduced Instagram Stories for its users. Stories works in a similar way to Snapchat, allowing users to upload a photo or video, which then disappear in 24 hours. Stories can be viewed on a user’s profile or in their feed.

What you need to know:

When you first sign up to Instagram your account is set to public by default—meaning all of your photos and videos will be visible by anyone, exposing you to quite a few risks. The good news is, it’s easy to change. Learn the steps for how to change it.

Once set to ‘private’ you are then required to accept people who wish to follow you, and only your followers can view your photos, videos and stories. 


Snapchat allows you to send photos or videos for 1 to 10 seconds before they disappear. You can select to send to certain Snapchat friends or post them on your ‘My Story’—allowing all of your Snapchat friends to view for up to 24 hours.

What you need to know:

While your snaps eventually disappear, users have the option to ‘replay’ immediately after they’ve been viewed. Screenshots can also be taken on the receiving end so don’t be fooled that it’s gone for good.

Think twice about what you send and remember to update your privacy settings so you know who you’re snapping with. See our steps about how to do this.  


Yellow is a relatively new kid on the block. This app helps you make new friends on Snapchat and is linked to your account.

Like Tinder, you can swipe left or right on users’ profiles. Swipe right if you want to follow someone on Snapchat—if that person also swipes right you get to see their username so you can add each other. Swipe left if you want to keep scrolling through.

What you need to know:

The app has no user-bios, chat function or other features… yet! For the moment it’s just about adding more friends to your Snapchat.

Be aware—the iTunes age rating for Yellow is 17 years+, while Google Play’s is 18 years+.

Top tips for keeping it private

  • Consent is a must! Remember to always ask for the consent of your friends or your children’s friends (for parents) before you post something online.
  • Don’t reveal too much. When posting online, be sure you’re not giving away too much information, like your location or a child’s school.
  • Keep strong security settings on your devices. It can be easy for people to steal photos from your laptop, phone or tablet so set strong passcodes and passwords to prevent this from happening.

The Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner provides online safety education and a complaints service for cyberbullying to Australian children and young people. They also address illegal online content through an Online Content Scheme. You can go to the eSafety website to find out more.

You can read OAIC’s top ten tips to protect your privacy here.