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Instagram increases security measures for teens to help ward off predators online

Instagram increases security measures for teens to help ward off predators online
PHOTO: Unsplash

There’s a whole generation of kids who grew up with phones and constantly being connected to the Internet. Texting on Instagram, watching YouTube, or Netflix is not an experience foreign to them.

With social media taking (or taken) over our lives, parents find it increasingly hard to protect their kids against predators that lurk on the Internet.

In light of this, Instagram has been working on a few features to ensure that their platform is made safer for teens to be on the Internet. In a recent post, Instagram announced that there new features ready to be put in place for increased safety online, specifically for teens under the age of 18.

1. Updated parents guide

Parents can now better help their children by enabling their privacy settings for their accounts with the new Parents Guide. In a collaboration with The Child Mind Institute and ConnectSafely, Instagram has made an all-you-need-to-know manual of the app’s new and old privacy settings.

The guide will be useful for parents to ensure that their children are as protected as possible with Instagram’s new settings. There is also a section in the guide which aims to aid parents to start a discussion with their children about their safety online.

These new guides are available in Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Singapore. The new guide adds to the older iterations of the guide that is available in the UK, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain.

2. Improving age recognition

To protect kids, Instagram will need to better identify which accounts belong to kids. Even though Instagram has an age requirement and asks users to provide their age for a signup, teenagers tend ignore this limitation, and pose as an older user. This is an industry-wide problem, and Instagram is still trying to figure out how to prove a user’s age.

Instagram’s solution, for now, is to develop new “Artificial Intelligence and machine learning technology to help us keep teens safer and apply new age-appropriate features.”.

3. Restricting interactions between teens & adults

It is unrealistic to assume that every adult on Instagram is harmful to children. So how is Instagram going to differentiate the normal and potentially dangerous adult accounts? Instagram will be flagging any adult that sends a suspicious amount of friend or message requests to minors.

So when adult accounts are flagged, they will not be allowed to direct message a child’s account if they do not follow each other. Machine learning technology is applied in this process, ensuring that they can identify potentially dangerous accounts. While Instagram tries to integrate end-to-end encryption onto the app, they are trying other ways to eliminate predators without disrespecting the privacy of users.

4. Prompts to warn kids of predators

A problem might arise when the adult is already following the minor, giving the adult an opportunity to lure the child. Instagram works around this by notifying the child’s account when an adult account is flagged.

A safety notice will appear in the direct message, informing the child that the conversation with the adult might potentially be harmful to them. The child has the option to end the conversation by blocking, reporting, or restricting the adult.

5. Separating adults from kids on Instagram

To make sure flagged adults do not have easy access to harass minors, Instagram has plans in mind to make it harder for adult accounts to find underage accounts.

Such features would be like removing minors’ accounts in flagged adult accounts’ ‘Suggested Users’, preventing adults from finding teen content in Reels or Explore, and also automatically hiding comments flagged adults have made on minors’ accounts.

6. Keeping teens’ accounts on private

Before the update, an account set up is public by default and must be manually set to private. But now, if the account user is under 18, a prompt recommending a private profile will pop up instead thus limiting potential exposure to unwanted elements.

Instagram strives to continue ensuring a “safe and supportive experience on Instagram” and plans to “further limit inappropriate interactions between adults and teens.”. According to them, additional measures are still in the works and it will take some time for all countries to have these settings in place.

It’s good to see Instagram is taking the responsibility to protect minors on the Internet. These stepped-up features will ensure that everyone can play a part in keeping kids safe while still giving them some degree of freedom to explore the platform.

However, the high dependence on AI and machine learning could be a worrying trend as such systems have been prone to error. Thus the onus still falls, in part, to parents playing a part in order to make sure kids are safe and protected on the Internet.

Or parents should refrain from being distracted by their own social media needs and keep a closer eye on their kids. Easier said than done, we know.

This article was first published in Geek Culture.

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