For a long time, social media was just seen as a distraction. Nowadays, it’s a vital tool for collaboration and communication. In fact, 50 percent of American teens use Instagram every single day according to Pew Research. Unfortunately, institutions are slow to change. That’s why some administrators still try to prevent students from accessing sites like Instagram on campus, regardless of how useful they can be when used properly.
Here’s the thing: no web-filtering system is completely foolproof. Below, we’ll explain how to unblock Instagram and school and continue accessing your other favorite sites at school or college. Further, we’ll debunk some myths and misconceptions about other commonly-recommended methods of beating online restrictions so that you’re more aware of the risks that they pose.
Unblock Instagram at school the easy way: Use a VPN
The simplest way to get around internet filters is to connect to a Virtual Private Network (VPN for short). We’ll cover these in more detail shortly. For now, here’s a guide to getting started so you can start using Instagram again as quickly as possible:
- First, you’ll have to choose a reputable VPN provider. We recommend NordVPN but Surfshark and ExpressVPN are both excellent options as well.
- Sign up, download the VPN app, and login. Most major VPNs also have browser extensions, meaning you can use them on Chromebooks too.
- Next, connect to a server. Generally, you’ll get higher speeds using a server that’s nearby.
- Now we wait. In a few seconds, the screen will change, letting you know that you’ve successfully connected to the VPN. From now on, your traffic is encrypted and you should be able to access any site you like.
- If you’re still having problems, try clearing the browser’s cache and cookies. Alternatively, try a different server or switch to a different protocol in the settings menu. If none of these solutions work, contact your VPN’s support team for one-on-one assistance.
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What is a VPN and how can they help me?
Your school’s web-filter acts as a middle-man between you and the internet. Whenever you try to access a website, it checks to see if that site is blocked (or, if you’re dealing with an especially strict filter, whether it’s been allowed). If everything checks out, the filter will pass on your request and the site will load. Otherwise, you’ll see a message letting you know that the site isn’t available at school.
This kind of approach is only possible because the school administrators can see which sites you’re trying to visit. When you connect to a VPN, all of your internet traffic is encrypted and routed through a remote server, meaning it can’t be analyzed by the web-filter. This allows you to side-step content-blocking systems entirely and regain access to Instagram wherever you go.
Are there any other ways to access Instagram at school?
Can’t install a VPN? In that case, your best option is to switch to mobile data. Since you’re no longer using the school’s network, your traffic is no longer passing through its filtering system. Be careful, though: Instagram has a lot of auto-playing videos that can quickly eat up your bandwidth. If you’re going this route, we’d suggest setting up data warnings in your phone’s settings to make sure you don’t end up with a large bill at the end of the month.
You may have heard that you can sometimes bypass simple internet-filters by entering a site’s IP address into your browser. That’s true, but every site is different and not all of them are configured to allow this. Instagram, for instance, simply shows a server error if you try.
Finally, you might be tempted to use a proxy server. These can usually get around web-filtering since you’re technically only visiting a site that hasn’t specifically been blocked. However, whoever owns the server can keep records of everything you do. If you’d rather not let a stranger see your login credentials or personal messages, avoid proxies at all costs. On that note, why not check out our guide to locking down your Instagram account for maximum privacy?
Why does my school, college, or university block Instagram?
Teachers want students to focus on learning, but that isn’t the only reason that Instagram is blocked in schools. While you’re in class or using the computers that it provides, your school has a duty of care over you. Part of this involves protecting students from anything harmful or inappropriate on the internet. Your school can’t control what other people post on social media, so it’s easier just to block Instagram.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a slew of research showing the negative impact that social media can have. For example, one-fifth of all cyberbullying takes place on these services and Instagram’s own internal reports noted that the platform negatively impacted the mental wellbeing of teenage girls. This information, when taken in a vacuum, makes it much easier to justify blocking these platforms entirely.
What else can I do with a VPN?
VPNs are helpful in any situation where you’d like to hide your real location or stop people from seeing what you do online. Here are a few examples:
- Shielding your activity while on public wifi networks
- Accessing Instagram in countries like China, where it’s not normally available
- Watching your usual streaming services while abroad on vacation
- Making sure your ISP isn’t throttling your internet speeds
- Manually switching region to play games with people in other countries
- Beating an IP address ban
- Torrenting without revealing your real IP address
- Getting access to services like Threads before they’re officially available in your country
Accessing Instagram at school: Frequently Asked Questions
Can I get into trouble for using a VPN?
In most countries, VPNs are perfectly legal so long as you’re not using them to commit crimes. However, some places do limit citizens to government-approved VPN providers. Additionally, while it may not be illegal to use a VPN, your school, college, or workplace’s acceptable usage policy might forbid it all the same.
Disclaimer: Although we’ve spent hours researching this topic, we are not legal experts. As such, nothing we’ve said above should be taken as legal advice. We encourage you to consult local laws and your school’s internet policy if you’re not sure whether VPN usage is permitted.
Why doesn’t my VPN work at school?
There are all kinds of web-blocking systems, and some are more advanced than others. If you’re having issues connecting to your VPN while on campus, it’s likely there are additional tools in place specifically designed to prevent you from bypassing the school’s online restrictions in this way. For instance, the network administrators may be blocking certain types of web traffic or cross-referencing your IP address against a list of known VPN servers.
You have a couple of options here. First, let’s assume the school is keeping track of IP addresses. Try switching VPN servers a few times. It’s virtually impossible to keep an up-to-date list of every VPNs’ entire network, so sooner or later, you should find a server that works.
If that didn’t help, it’s time to dig into the VPN’s settings. Try switching to a different connection protocol, activating the stealth mode if there is one, or forcing HTTPS. Still having problems? In that case, we’d recommend getting in touch with your VPN’s customer support team.
Most schools maintain a list of blocked websites. Alternatively, the school might only allow access to a predetermined list of apps and websites, and block everything else. Obviously, VPN servers are not on that list. If your campus uses an allow list instead of a deny list in this way, then a VPN probably won’t help.
Am I completely anonymous while using a VPN?
No. VPNs enhance your privacy by encrypting your web traffic and hiding your real IP address but they won’t make you completely untraceable. If your school or office has monitoring software installed on the device you’re using, administrators can likely see everything you do regardless of whether you’re using a VPN or not. Additionally, many websites store cookies to identify you on future visits and keep tabs on your activities.
VPNs are just one tool that privacy-conscious internet users have at their disposal. The best defense against online snooping is to familiarize yourself with basic security concepts and try to avoid sending sensitive data while on a network that you don’t control.