Instagram unveils new safety features to protect minors

▶ Watch Video: Instagram announces updates on teen safety, new parents guide

Adults will hit roadblocks when trying to search for or message minors on Instagram with whom they have no connection. Instagram is rolling out new safety features aimed at protecting younger users from adults they don’t know. 

The social media giant also will prevent adults from messaging minors if the minor does not follow the adult and will make it harder for adults to discover and follow younger users. Minors will also receive prompts urging caution in their messages with adults they are already connected to if the adult “has been exhibiting suspicious behavior,” the company said. 

“This is just one of the latest in the slate of tools to protect teens,” Instagram’s Head of Global Policy Programs Carolyn Merrell told “CBS This Morning” Tuesday, where she first broke the news.

Merrell continued, “We take this seriously and we wanted to get ahead — get upstream and protect teens from unwarranted interactions between adults and teens.”

The first prompt asks the young user whether they know this person. “If not, there are some things you can do to keep this conversation safe,” it says. The safety notices tell the minor that they can secretly restrict, report or block the other person. The notices include the advice: “You don’t have to respond to messages that annoy you or make you feel uncomfortable” and “Be careful when sharing photos, videos or information with someone you don’t know.” 

The company said it will use “a new type of artificial intelligence to determine who is an adult vs. a minor.” 

“We ask for age when you first sign on, we also rely on reporting tools – so if you see someone’s that’s not 13, you can report and we’ll take that account down. And we’re using machine learning to look at behavioral signals of how old someone is to make sure we’re also getting ahead of that,” Merrell explained. 

As always, there is the option of making an account private in the app’s settings, but the company said users under 18 will be asked to choose between a private or public account during the sign-up process. 

A recent poll conducted by Instagram found that out of 10,000 pieces of content, only five were risky to teens – however, “five is too much,” Merrell said.

Users of all ages already can limit who can see their Instagram Stories via the “close friends” feature, which allows users to create a list of followers who are only able to view their Stories. There’s also a “hide story from” feature that prevents anyone on that list from viewing Stories. Users can also limit who can reply, react and share their Stories. 

Instagram has updated its parents guide to include the new safety features. Child Mind Institute partnered with Instagram to create the guidance on setting online boundaries for children. 

“For most tweens in particular who are just getting online, parents are setting boundaries where they’re saying, ‘If it isn’t already a friend you can verify, there shouldn’t really be a reason why you’re messaging with somebody,'” said Dave Anderson, clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. 

Anderson advises parents against scaring their children with the worst-case-scenario examples of what could happen if they engage with an unknown adult online. Instead, he said, parents can help their children set their privacy settings and give them guidance on when to respond to outreach from another user. 

“That kind of narrative for parents when you try to scare kids into thinking they should avoid certain types of online activity doesn’t tend to work,” he said. “Help them differentiate. This is a request we can verify easily from a kid you know, this is something where we can’t, and also to make sure people are setting privacy settings that make sense for them.”