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New photo-sharing app can lead to cyber-bullying, security problems

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If your kids haven't already started talking about Instagram, you'll probably be hearing about it soon. 

The popular photo-sharing app has more than 27 million users nationwide, and many of them are kids.

It's become the latest social networking craze for many Arkansas elementary and middle school students. But just like anything in the online world, parents and kids need to beware. 

Being able to take a picture, share it online, and comment on it with your friends seems like a fairly innocent thing to do, until your child's identity falls into the hands of a cyber-bully or an online predator.

Nicole Kaemmerling keeps her family's computer in the main part of the house with the idea that she and her husband can keep an eye on what their children are doing online. 

In the fall, they allowed their 12-year-old daughter, a straight-A student, to set up an account on Instagram. They thought it was safe until their daughter woke up one morning last month and discovered someone had hijacked her account.

 "Apparently somebody created a fake Instagram account and it had her picture on it. And it had ‘I hate Alexa Kam.' And they had posted her picture, and they had made little devil horns on her head. And she didn't know who posted it," said Nicole Kaemmerling.

After much research, Alexa's parents were able to shut down the fake account, but they weren't able to track down the kids who bullied their daughter.

"I just wanted to take that child and say, ‘Why would you do this?  Why would you hurt someone so badly?  What was your intent?  Were you trying to be funny?  Were you jealous?  Did you like a boy who liked her? Why would you be so mean to somebody like this?" said Nicole Kaemmerling.

Nicole may not be able to answer that question, but she did find out, just like Facebook and Twitter, it's against the social networking sites' policy for children under the age of 13 to have an Instagram account.

Joshua Carroll, an IT security specialist, says the draw for kids to Instagram is it's accessibility. 

Kids only have to have an email address and an iPhone or an iTouch, and they're free to set up an account and interact with millions of potential followers.

"If your page is private and you shared something with others who are not private and they re-shared what you posted, then it's potentially left out there to the public internet," said Joshua Carroll.

Being able to experiment in that public forum is just one of many problems Sharon Long, Education Coordinator for Centers of Youth and Family has with kids using Instagram. 

"It's a public forum. We're talking children between the ages of 6 and 12 who quite honestly are not ready for publicly sharing images or information or access to information at that age," said Sharon Long.

 If you're looking for ways to help keep your child safe from the dangers of cyber-bullying, Pulaski Academy is holding a panel discussion on cyber-bullying. It is open to the public on Tuesday, April 17th.