You’ve heard all the warnings from your parents and teachers a million times: social media is a distraction from learning and has no place in school. But the reality is that sometimes you just want to spend your lunch break unwinding on Instagram – and there’s nothing more annoying than trying to refresh your feed and realizing that your school has blocked it.
Fear not, though! We’re about to tell you how to unblock Instagram at a school, workplace or any other location with restrictive WiFi; whether you choose a simple proxy, a special browser or a powerful VPN, you’re only a few taps away from seeing the latest posts and photos in all their unblocked glory.
Why Schools Block Instagram – and How They Do It
The Reasoning Behind Instagram Blocking at School
When you put yourself in a teacher’s shoes, it becomes pretty obvious why Instagram isn’t welcome in the classroom. Trying to get the attention of a room full of restless students is hard enough as it is; give each kid a smartphone and the task becomes futile (let’s face it, social media tends to be a lot more interesting than yet another math lecture!).
As fun and inspiring as Instagram can be, it’s also got a lot of potential to be used for bullying, harassment and gossip. Schools have been sued for allowing students to cyberbully others using school WiFi, so many have blocked social media altogether as a preventative measure.
Even if bullying disappeared completely, there’s still a lot of sketchy stuff on social media that’s deemed inappropriate for school, and the most efficient way to prevent students from viewing it is by implementing a network-wide ban on Instagram and other sites.
There’s an ongoing debate about whether these policies are fair – sure, social media has its downsides, but it can have educational value as well. Art classes could utilize Instagram to find inspiration and share finished pieces, while Facebook group chats can make planning and organizing team projects easier.
Some schools are receptive to these arguments, but most of them continue to block social media anyway. Understanding how they do it is key to getting around their restrictions; don’t worry, it’s a lot simpler than you might think!
How Schools Block Instagram
Your school’s network administrator has access to the router that’s responsible for broadcasting the WiFi network you use while you’re on campus. He or she maintains a blacklist of all the websites that the school doesn’t want students to access and stores this list on the router.
Because the router sees all traffic passing through it, it’s able to check it all against the blacklist before allowing it through. When it detects a banned URL, IP address or keyword, it stops the request in its tracks.
Depending on the system your school uses, you may get an error message notifying you that the site is blocked, or you may simply see a blank page.
This method of website blocking isn’t just used by schools, either – your parents may have a similar setup on your home WiFi. Most bosses don’t want their employees slacking off on Instagram all day either, so WiFi networks in offices and other workplaces often block access to social media and other “time-wasting” sites.
How to Unblock Instagram at School on Your Device
If you bring your own phone, laptop or tablet to school, you have a lot of options for circumventing internet blocks. The right one for you will depend on your budget and how advanced your school’s network administration skills are.
These strategies don’t just work for Instagram – any blocked site or app, from YouTube to Snapchat to Twitter, can be accessed in all its glory using these methods.
What’s more, once you pick a method, you can use it to get around site blocks no matter where you are. Whether you’re at school, work, the library, the coffee shop, your friend’s house or your own home, the whole entire internet will be yours to explore once again.
Use Mobile Data to Get Around Instagram Blocks
This is by far the easiest way to use Instagram or other blocked sites or apps on any device that uses cellular data: just turn off your WiFi and browse over mobile data instead. Your school can only control what happens on its own network; once you’re no longer on that network, the only way they can stop you is by physically taking your phone away (so be discreet!).
But there are some downsides to this method that make it less than ideal for many people.
Unless you have an unlimited data plan, too much browsing could eat up most or all of your monthly data. Instagram in particular is known to be data-hungry, as loading all those photos and videos eats up a lot of bandwidth.
Unlimited data plans solve the data usage problem, but they can be expensive. Additionally, many of them slow you down dramatically once you use a certain amount of data each month; these capped speeds can be so low that some sites time out before loading at all.
Depending on your school’s layout and construction, you may not have a signal in some areas, forcing you to use WiFi if you want any internet access at all. And of course, if you bring your laptop to school, then mobile data obviously won’t work for you, so you’ll need to choose a different method.
Use a Proxy Server to Unblock Instagram
Remember how website blocks work? When the router detects you trying to access a banned URL (let’s say, Instagram.com) it stops the request before it can go anywhere – so in order to avoid getting caught in the filter, you’ll need to find a way to access Instagram.com without actually visiting Instagram.com.
This is a lot easier to do than it sounds. You just need to have another computer from an uncensored network visit Instagram on your behalf and send the data it receives back to you; this machine-in-the-middle is called a proxy server.
In the past, proxies were quite unreliable and sometimes tricky to set up, requiring you to change your computer’s settings and go through a lot of trial and error to get anything usable. But today’s proxy servers couldn’t be simpler to use: just visit the server website, tell it the URL you want to visit and hit Enter!
Your school’s WiFi router only sees that you’re accessing the proxy server, which won’t activate any filters or alarms unless it, too, is blocked (which is much less likely than social media being blocked). Because the proxy server is the one that’s actually visiting Instagram, all Instagram-related data appears as if it’s coming from the proxy, not from Instagram itself.
But can’t the school see that you’re telling the proxy to visit Instagram and block the results from loading? Thanks to the secure connections used by proxy servers, nope – all your school can see is the proxy server URL, not the content of the page or anything you type into it.
There are a few cons to using a proxy server to unblock Instagram: because they’re used by many people at once, proxies can be slow, so uploading or watching long videos may test your patience quite a bit. Instagram and other sites have banned some of the most popular free proxies because they’re often used by spammers to hide their identities, so you may have to try a few different ones before you find one that works.
Unfortunately, schools are starting to catch on to proxies, and many blacklists are now populated with proxy servers as well as social media sites. You might need to try a bunch of free proxies in order to find one that isn’t blocked or, if your school has really cracked down on proxy servers, try a different method.
Recommended Free Proxy Servers
Want to try a free proxy server? Here are a few reputable ones to start with – give them a shot and see which one works most reliably for you.
Use Tor Browser to Unblock Instagram
At its core, Tor is a free web browser that’s based on Mozilla Firefox and designed for user privacy. You use it just like any other browser: type in the URL you want to visit and Tor will take you there.
In practice, Tor is like a proxy on steroids – rather than redirecting your request one time, Tor bounces it through many different servers around the world. Your school won’t see the site you’re accessing, nor will it see a proxy server URL; instead, it’ll see an ever-changing IP address that belongs to whichever Tor relay happened to receive your request.
Tor is a reliable way to get around school site blocks because it’s much harder to blacklist than a free proxy server. Rather than adding one proxy URL to the blacklist, a network administrator would have to add each of the more than 7,000 publicly-listed Tor servers, plus each of the more than 800 unlisted servers – a big task that your school is unlikely to undertake, especially since Tor traffic is much less noticeable than proxy traffic.
So what’s the catch with Tor? Well, it’s slow; each request passes through at least three relay servers in each direction, and these servers could be anywhere in the world, so you’ll be waiting a while for things to load, especially high-quality photos and videos.
Although Tor is a lot tougher to block than your average website, it’s still possible to do so. If Tor use catches on in your school (or if the network administrator is having a slow day) it could very well end up on the blacklist, at least partially – it’s a great tool, but it’s not 100% foolproof.
Use a VPN to Unblock Instagram
Of all the ways to unblock Instagram and other sites, a virtual private network, or VPN, is the priciest, but it’s also the most effective and reliable. Plus, there are a lot of other benefits that come with using a VPN, from accessing geo-restricted content to shielding your personal information from outside eyes.
A VPN works a lot like a proxy: when you type in a website URL, your request is rerouted through a VPN server before reaching its destination, at which point the process is reversed in order to show you the site. Your school will only see you communicating with the VPN server, not with any of the sites you’re actually visiting, leaving you free to do whatever you want without worrying about blocks and filters.
But a VPN is far more versatile and secure than a proxy. With a VPN, you can choose which server to reroute your traffic through; depending on which VPN provider you use, you could have hundreds or thousands of options from around the world.
If you choose a server that’s close to you, you’ll get to enjoy faster speeds, and if you choose one in a different country, you’ll be able to access streaming content that’s only available in that country. Let’s say you’re in the USA and you want to watch a show on Netflix that’s only available in Canada; just pick a VPN server in Canada and it’ll appear to Netflix as if you’re actually in Canada, allowing you to watch the show.
When it comes to school site blocks, though, a VPN’s security features are without a doubt the best thing about it. VPNs use super-strength encryption algorithms to secure all data you send and receive over the internet, making it impossible for your school to see anything you’re doing.
So when you type in “Instagram.com” and hit Enter, your VPN program encrypts the request and turns it into gibberish before sending it to the VPN server (the only place where the request can be decrypted and carried out). Your school’s network administrator sees only the VPN server’s IP address and the encrypted gibberish request, no matter what site you visit and what kind of data you transmit or receive.
Unlike proxies and Tor, which only protect you when you use them specifically, a VPN can be left running at all times to encrypt and reroute all of your internet traffic, regardless of which app or program you’re using. A VPN protects your entire device rather than a single browser or website, making it the perfect solution for those who want to access multiple blocked sites or apps.
There’s still a bit of speed loss with VPNs, but they’re usually much faster than proxy servers or Tor. They’re also a lot harder to block – there are thousands upon thousands of VPN server IP addresses used by any one VPN provider and they’re far less conspicuous than proxy URLs.
With that said, some schools have made attempts to ban VPNs by blocking certain router ports that are commonly used by popular VPNs. However, these bans are easy to circumvent by either switching to a different provider or changing your VPN settings to use a different port.
The biggest hurdle with a VPN is cost; there are free VPNs out there, but they tend to be slow, restrictive and unreliable, plus many of them don’t actually protect you like they claim to do. It’s well worth the cost to use a paid VPN – a few dollars a month buys you a ton of features and a much greater peace of mind.
If you’re interested in using a VPN to access Instagram and other blocked sites at school, check out these providers. They offer affordable and dependable VPNs that are easy to set up on all types of devices.
Private Internet Access
For around $10 a month (or even less if you prepay for a year or more in advance) you’ll be able to choose from over 3,000 VPN servers in 32 countries – we wish your school good luck with blocking all of those! Private Internet Access offers apps for Android, iOS, Windows, Mac and Linux, so no matter what devices you bring to school, you’ll have unrestricted internet access.
With easy-to-use apps for all major mobile and desktop OSes and over 5,000 global servers to choose from, NordVPN makes it incredibly simple to secure your internet activity and access whatever sites you want. It’ll cost you $11.95 a month, but you can save 50% or more by prepaying for an annual subscription.
PrivateVPN’s Android and iOS apps are attractive and easy to use, as are their Windows and Mac apps. $7.67 a month gets you access to servers in over 60 countries on up to six devices at a time; you can save by prepaying for three months or a year as well as by referring friends.
At $12.95 a month, ExpressVPN is on the pricier side, but you get 24/7 customer support, over 3,000 servers and apps for all major OSes plus devices like gaming consoles, smart TVs and Chromebooks. ExpressVPN can be used simultaneously on up to six devices, so it’s a great option if you want to share your VPN with friends.
PureVPN offers speedy mobile and desktop apps, over 2,000 global servers and a 31-day money back guarantee when you sign up. Service costs $10.95 a month (or less if you prepay) and can be purchased with gift cards from retailers like Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Starbucks – a great option for those with lots of leftover gift card balances.
If you’re on a budget, LimeVPN is one of the best deals out there: it’s $2.49 a month, or just $1 a month if you prepay for two years. There aren’t any dedicated apps available, but LimeVPN offers easy-to-follow guides for setting up your VPN on all kinds of devices.
How to Unblock Instagram on a School Computer
We’ve explored several good ways to unblock Instagram and other sites on your own devices, but what about on school computers? Not having administrator access can mean not being able to install new programs, which makes the task a bit tougher, but certainly not impossible.
However, a word of caution before we begin: school computers are likely to have monitoring software installed on them, including screen recorders or keystroke loggers. This means that even if your internet activity is masked and you’re able to access blocked sites, you could still get caught quite easily.
We suggest avoiding school computers if possible; your own devices are much more private and secure. With that said, here are four ways to access blocked sites on school computers.
Use a VPN Browser Extension
Most VPNs require you to install some kind of software on your device before using them. This software manages your encryption keys, allows you to switch servers and acts as an airlock between your device and the internet, ensuring that nothing slips through the cracks.
You might think you’re out of luck, then, when it comes to using a VPN on a school computer that doesn’t allow you to install new programs on it. Thankfully, many VPN providers offer a convenient way around this restriction: browser extensions.
Because browser extensions are confined within the web browser, they’re not considered full programs and thus their installations aren’t blocked. While a VPN browser extension won’t protect any internet activity that isn’t conducted within the browser, it should be more than sufficient for short-term usage on a school computer.
Not all VPN providers offer browser extensions, but those that do typically provide them for Chrome and Firefox. Installation requires just a couple of clicks; when you’re done for the day, the extension can easily be disabled or removed to return the computer to the way it was and avoid arousing suspicion.
If your school computer doesn’t have Firefox or Chrome installed on it, don’t worry – you can still use a VPN browser extension! We’ll explain how in the “Create a USB Toolkit” section below.
Recommended VPN Browser Extensions
Of the six VPN providers we mentioned above, NordVPN, ExpressVPN and PureVPN provide subscribers with extensions for Chrome and Firefox. Private Internet Access offers extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera.
Use a Proxy Server
Since proxy servers don’t require you to install any software in order to use them, you shouldn’t have any problems using them on school computers (provided they’re not blocked at the network level, that is).
However, there are a few extra precautions to consider when using a proxy server on a school computer. You’ll want to make sure to delete the proxy from your web history at the end of your session so as not to leave any evidence behind; you never know who will use the computer next, after all.
If you have your own user account on the school’s computer network, be aware that anything you do on it can be traced back to you, so even if you delete the proxy from your web history after you’re done, the school’s network administrator will be able to see that your user account accessed it. It won’t necessarily get you into trouble, but it could cause teachers and staff to monitor you more closely in the future.
In addition to network-wide website blocking, some schools maintain separate filters on their individual computers as well. These may be implemented within the computer’s web browser or across the entire OS; either way, they could prevent you from accessing proxy sites.
Create a USB Toolkit
Even if you can’t install any new browsers on your school’s computers, you’re not limited to the school-approved one. You can take a simple USB thumb drive and load it up with portable web browsers, turning it into a web privacy toolkit that you can use on any computer!
The two browsers most commonly supported by VPN extensions, Firefox and Chrome, both offer free portable browser downloads. These portable browsers don’t need to be installed; just put the files on your USB drive and run them whenever you need them.
Firefox’s portable browser allows you to install extensions, including VPN extensions, without issue; portable Chrome technically supports extensions, but some are buggy due to the way Chrome handles program settings. As far as reliability goes, we recommend portable Firefox over Chrome, but you can easily give both a try – there’s no need to uninstall whichever one you don’t want, just delete the file!
Tor is a portable browser by default, giving you a free way to hide your social media usage from your school’s network administrators. Just place the program file on your thumb drive and fire it up when you need to get around a website block.
Portable web browsers are relatively small files, so you don’t need a huge USB drive to use them. You can easily get away with a 1GB drive, though a larger one will give you plenty of room to store other files like homework, papers and projects – just in case you need a cover story for why you’ve got your USB drive plugged in.
Use Your Phone to Create a Mobile Hotspot
If you’ve got a cell phone with a data plan that supports mobile hotspots and tethering, you’re in luck – you’ve got an easy way to access Instagram and other banned sites on a school computer right in your pocket. By creating a mobile hotspot with your phone and connecting to it with your school computer, you can use your mobile data instead of your school’s censored WiFi.
On iOS, make sure you’re not connected to your school’s WiFi, then open up the Settings app and select Mobile Data, then select Personal Hotspot. Change the “Personal Hotspot” setting to “On” and enter a password for your new hotspot.
On Android, disconnect from the school WiFi, then navigate to Settings – Wireless and Networks – More. Tap on “Tethering and Portable Hotspot” and then on “Set Up WiFi Hotspot,” then follow the instructions for giving your network a name and password.
Once your hotspot is set up, go to your school computer’s WiFi settings, find your new network and connect to it using the password you created. Now you’re free to browse whatever sites you want without getting caught up in network filters – just keep an eye on your data usage, especially if you have a data limit or are browsing a lot of image- and video-heavy sites.
Now you’re well-equipped to access Instagram, YouTube or any other site no matter how restrictive your WiFi network is – ready to learn about other ways to exercise your internet freedoms? Take a look at these topics and get started on your next lesson!
What are the Dangers of Public WiFi?
Whether it’s at school, the library, the airport or the coffee shop, free public WiFi is great for staying connected wherever you go, but it’s full of dangers like nosy network administrators, nefarious connection spoofers and eagle-eyed bystanders peeking over your shoulder. With a little knowledge, though, you’ll be able to thwart these attackers and, in many cases, avoid them altogether.
What are the Most Effective Ad and Tracker Blockers?
Pop-ups, banner ads, overly loud commercials that interrupt your videos every five seconds – no matter what type of ads you encounter, they’re rarely welcome and frequently come bundled with invasive trackers. Browser extensions like uBlock Origin and AdBlocker Ultimate help you take back the web (and your personal information) from annoying ads and trackers.