Social Media

Instagram Gets More Private and Safer for Underage Users

Written by Bill Toulas
Published on July 28, 2021

Facebook is introducing some safeguards for younger users on Instagram to help protect their privacy and online well-being while also shutting potentially dangerous individuals outside their social network sphere. This plan has been under development for a while now, as we discussed back in March, and the time to roll out the features has come as it seems.

The three main things that will change from now on are:

  1. Defaulting users under the age of 16 into private accounts
  2. Making it harder for suspicious accounts to find underage users
  3. Limiting the reach of advertisers to these users

Private accounts aren’t viewable to anyone other than those who have been accepted by the owner as followers. This includes their ‘Stories,’ ‘Reels,’ post comments, followers, etc. According to Instagram, this is the statistical preference of younger people anyway, as roughly 80% chose the “private” account option upon signing up. For that 20% who preferred to go public, they will now get a notice urging them to switch and providing an explanation about why that would be a good idea. However, changing to private won’t be mandatory or enforced.

Source: Facebook

Any adult accounts that have been blocked by other users, or reported by a young person, or have an activity that matches stalking patterns, will be barred from the underage audience. They will continue to use their accounts, but search results will exclude younger users, their posts, and even their comments under other adult accounts.

As for the advertisers, they will no longer be allowed to target users under the age of 18, and this will also apply to Facebook and Messenger. When a user eventually turns 18, they will be notified about targeted advertising options, what tools marketers use to reach them, and what options they have around controlled their ad-serving experience on the platform.

But how is Facebook in a position to determine the real age of a user who lies upon the creation of their account? As the social media giant explains, it deploys AI to figure out who is under the age of 13, which should be the point of hard restriction. The AI looks at other people’s "happy birthday" wishes to the user, the ages of the people who comment on their posts, and other clues that cannot be disclosed for reasons of keeping the system reliable. The same AI tools are deployed against adult users who pretend to be teens in order to access that community.

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