See What's Happening: Instagram Rolls Out Safety Features to Ramp Up Protection of Underage Users

March 24, 2021

Parents have always been concerned about keeping their children safe, especially on digital, where a number of predators lurk, veiled and protected by their anonymity. Safety has always been a big issue and while we can’t always police what children are seeing and who they’re engaging with online, a good protection feature from the apps they commonly use is always welcome.

With this in mind, Instagram finally rolls out a safety tool that seeks to ramp up the protection of its teens and underage users. This update came on the heels of TikTok’s update earlier this year, which saw the app set accounts owned by 13-15 years old to private by default. Instagram’s own update wasn’t focused on the same privacy settings (although a prompt that gives users under the age of 18 an option to set their account to private is still available upon sign up). It focuses more on deflecting suspicious adult users from getting in contact with minors on the app.

Talking with CBS This Morning on Tuesday, March 16, Instagram’s Head of Global Policy Programs Carolyn Merrell says Instagram ‘wanted to get ahead’ and ‘protect teens from unwarranted interactions between adults and teens’.

Basically, this new feature does three major things:

  • Makes it difficult for adult users to message or get in contact with minors who don’t already follow them
  • Makes it difficult for adult users to follow or get in contact with minors in places within the Instagram app (e.g. Suggested Users, Explore, and ReelsIn)
  • Sends prompts to teen users with cautionary messages that deflect adults “exhibiting suspicious behavior”

The last element has a layer to it that gives teen users more autonomy over their conversations. Prompts are like alerts that ask the young users whether they know the adult trying to get in contact with them. These also provide safety notices that allow minors to secretly “restrict, report or block the other person”. Advice on what to do when confronted with uncomfortable scenarios is also available for underage users (ex. “Be careful when sharing photos, videos or information with someone you don’t know.”).

Aside from this, Instagram is also doing more in terms of catching users who lie about their age. It’s developing a model that uses a more sophisticated AI technology and “behavioural signals” to spot users’ real age.

Know more about safeguarding teens on Instagram on their recently updated Parent’s Guide here.

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