Instagram is adding a bunch of new features to protect young people

Teens will no longer receive DMs from over 18s they don’t follow, and will receive an alert when an account they do follow is acting suspiciously.

by Tom George
17 March 2021, 12:52pm

In a new roll out of features, Instagram is adding a bunch of new protections to make the platform a safer space for teenagers. Over the course of the pandemic Instagram has seen a huge uptick in downloads (an over 23% increase) forecasting their total number of users to reach 1.074 billion, a number experts didn’t think they would hit until 2024. While 30% of these users are Gen Z and nearly half are millennials, around 7% of the app’s users are aged 13 - 17. But with so many people joining daily, there are worries over safety and protection for underage Instagrammers. This worry is only heightened by Instagram’s move to follow other Facebook owned platforms with end-to-end encryption within its DMs, making messages unregulated and unviewable to anyone other than the account users

In response, Instagram have announced a number of new features to keep young people safe on the app. Now users over the age of 18 will not be able to send messages to teen users who aren’t following them back; instead a notification will pop up stating DMing them isn’t an option. Additionally, young people will now be alerted when the adult they are speaking to has been acting suspiciously on the app -- such as messaging a number of under 18s -- with a prompt appearing in the thread asking if they know the person and options to restrict, report or block the account if they are feeling unsafe. Suspicious accounts’ comments on public posts will also be restricted. 

Other features include hiding the posts and accounts of teens from suspicious accounts in the explore, reels and suggested user sections, as well as encouraging under 18s to establish stronger privacy settings. “Requiring that the teen — not the adult — establish the connection empowers teens to protect themselves. It puts them in the driver's seat and gives them more control over their experiences on Instagram,” says Larry Magid, CEO of ConnectSafely who have partnered with Instagram on a new guide to digital safety.

While the move is positive, it of course doesn’t come without caveats. One potential glaring issue with this is that it relies on users accurately reporting their age and, although Instagram doesn’t allow users under the age of thirteen to create an account, they recognise that these age restrictions can still be easily usurped. To combat this, the app is developing AI and machine learning technology to predict users' ages based on their activity, interactions and behaviour, although they have been fairly vague on how this will work

With social media already ingrained into our everyday lives, the need to keep platforms safe for all users is paramount. Whether these features go far enough is debatable and, of course, the possibility of users being persuaded to converse off the app is still there. However, hopefully these new features are certainly a step in the right direction.

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