Instagram is upping its efforts to stamp out predatory behavior in the app with a new range of features designed to protect younger users from ill-intentioned adults.
First off, and most significantly, Instagram is now implementing new restrictions that will prevent adults from sending messages to any users under the age of 18 who don’t follow them.
As per Instagram:
"When an adult tries to message a teen who doesn’t follow them, they'll receive a notification that DM’ing them isn’t an option. This feature relies on our work to predict peoples’ ages using machine learning technology, and the age people give us when they sign up."
Technically, people under the age of 13 can't sign-up for an Instagram account, but there are ways around this - and in the same way, adults could still, theoretically, avoid any such restriction by also entering a false age. That's why, as Instagram notes, it's looking to implement new detection tools and processes to catch out those who may be looking to use the platform for such purpose.
That becomes even more pressing as the platform moves into fully encrypted messaging, in line with Facebook's broader push to integrate its various messaging tools. A key concern with message encryption is that it can provide additional protection for predators, as no one, not even law enforcement, can access those exchanges. Instagram is aware of this limitation, with respect to protecting younger users, and it says that it is working to establish features which will enable protection, without accessing the content of DMs.
In addition to this, Instagram's also adding new alert prompts within message threads that will encourage younger users to be cautious in conversations with adults that they’re already connected to.
"Safety notices in DMs will notify young people when an adult who has been exhibiting potentially suspicious behavior is interacting with them in DMs. For example, if an adult is sending a large amount of friend or message requests to people under 18, we’ll use this tool to alert the recipients within their DMs and give them an option to end the conversation, or block, report, or restrict the adult."
These prompts could help to get younger users to think about what they're sharing, and why this person may be getting in contact - which could, in itself, be enough to stop them from sharing too much personal information.
Instagram's also looking to implement further restrictions on adults "who have been exhibiting potentially suspicious behavior to interact with teens".
"This may include things like restricting these adults from seeing teen accounts in 'Suggested Users', preventing them from discovering teen content in Reels or Explore, and automatically hiding their comments on public posts by teens."
I mean, if they've been exhibiting suspicious behavior, this seems like the minimum response - but those behaviors, of course, may not necessarily be indicative of ill-intent, and Instagram needs to implement such measures with respect, while also prioritizing user safety.
Instagram will also now encourage teens to establish privacy parameters for their accounts, with new alerts and prompts to highlight the benefits.
And finally, Instagram has also launched a new Parents Guide to help parents better understand how they can protect their kids on the platform.
The 50-page guide, created in collaboration with The Child Mind Institute and ConnectSafely, includes explainers on the platform's various privacy and safety features, along with tips and conversation starters "to help parents navigate discussions with their teens about their online presence".
Instagram has previously launched various guides for parents, covering all aspects of the platform's protection and safety tools. This new guide, however, is more comprehensive, with detailed overviews on more of the platform's safety elements, including the latest updates.
Given the younger skew of the app's audience, this is a key area of focus for Instagram, which also expands on the platform's efforts to also limit the negative psychological impacts of comparison and bullying within the app.
Online predators are another major concern in this respect, and it's worth all parents downloading the new guide and taking the time to understand the various tools available to help protect their teens from unwanted, and potentially harmful, attention.
You can download the new Instagram parents guide here.