Opinion: How social media apps can keep strangers away from children



Instagram has announcement it is taking steps to make it more difficult for strangers to contact teens through its app. A new feature will prohibit adults from sending direct messages to people under the age of 18 who are not following them. If an adult tries to do this, they will receive a notification explaining that they cannot direct message to the account.

A blog post from Facebook, the parent company of Instagram, explains that this is just one of the updates they are implementing in their efforts to “keep the youngest members of the company safe. our community ”.

If an adult is friends with a teenager on social media, Instagram can make the teenager be careful if they decide to have private messaging conversations. Safety advisories will tell young people if an adult they are interacting with is exhibiting potentially suspicious behavior. For example, if an adult tries to send messages to many people under the age of 18, the young account holder will receive a security notification from Instagram. The advisory gives teens the option to end the conversation and then restrict, block, or flag the adult.

If kids really want to chat with adult strangers, they can always lie about their age when they sign up. But Instagram says it is “developing new artificial intelligence and machine learning technology” to help apply these new security features. The company has not given more information on how the new technology works, but says it will use it with the age given by the user to help make interactions on the app safer.

After reading these posts on Instagram, I was happy but also annoyed that the company is placing all the blame on the teens. If the app sensed that an adult was participating in potentially suspicious behavior, why wouldn’t it block or restrict the adult? The good news is that Instagram is taking action in this regard as well. In the coming weeks, if the company notices suspicious behavior, such as an adult trying to interact with a lot of teenagers, it could take steps to make it more difficult for the adult to do so. Instagram can do things like prevent the adult from seeing teen accounts in “Suggested Users” or can potentially hide their comments in public youth posts.

While this is a step in the right direction from Instagram, do teenage users of other social media apps have the same protections? While Instagram is the second favorite social media platform for teens, according to a recent poll by Piper sandler, Snapchat is still in the lead and TikTok is at No. 3.

Snapchat makes it a little more difficult for foreign adults to contact young people, as the adult would need to know the teenager’s username in order to send them a message. To make sure this doesn’t happen, young users should check that their settings are such that only their friends can contact them directly or view their story.

TikTok offers several ways to restrict who can send messages to a child’s account. If a parent has linked their account with their teenager’s account (which I highly recommend), the parent can decide who can contact the child or whether to disable direct messaging altogether. Those over 16 can also control who can send them direct messages through their privacy and security account settings. TikTok does not allow private messaging for people under 16.

It will be much easier to prevent unknown adults from sending messages to teens by ensuring that their accounts are always set as private. TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram all allow the option of a public or private account. A private account will only allow people accepted as friends to view posts, photos and videos.

It’s understandable that some teens who are creators or athletes trying to gain followers for their careers might wish to have a public account where everyone can view their content. If this is the case, parents should remember to have regular thoughtful conversations with their children about the potential dangers of direct messages to strangers.

Also a quick reminder that for these three (and most) social media apps, users must be at least 13 years old.

As we try to help our kids navigate their safety online, look for a new parents guide soon on Instagram. It will include tips and conversation starters to help parents have meaningful conversations with their teens about living online.



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