Instagram Makes New Under 16 Profiles Private by Default

03 Aug 2021 UK SIC

Instagram has announced that there will be new changes regarding how under 16’s social media accounts are managed. These new features are looking to address preventing unwanted followers on Instagram and messages from people they don’t know. These new features can help towards keeping children and young people safe online whilst still allowing them to navigate and experience the benefits of social media.

Instagram did some research and found that children and young people were seen to prefer having a more private account, as opposed to a more public one. This allows them to socialise with those who are known to them including friends and family, without the worry of interacting with people they don’t know.

Defaulting Private Accounts for Under 16s  

In light of these new features, when a young person who is under 16 signs up for an Instagram account, it will automatically set to private. If they want to make their account public, they will need to actively switch their account. Accounts can be switched to be made public whenever the user chooses and those accounts that are already established as public won’t be automatically transferred towards the private setting.  Those existing accounts belonging to under 16s that are already set to public will receive a notification that will show the user what benefit a private account can offer.

Private accounts allow young people to have more control on the platform, mainly restricting those who can comment on their Instagram content. When a young person’s account is made private, any user who wants to be made a follower needs to be accepted first. Until they are accepted, they are unable to view, comment and engage with posts. This also applies across other parts of Instagram including hashtags,

Preventing Unwanted Contact from Strangers 

There has also been measures taken to try and prevent the problem of unwanted contact from unknown adults online. Instagram will be finding Instagram accounts that are showing signs of ‘suspicious behaviour’ and will go on to prevent those accounts from seeing and engaging with younger accounts online.

The technology that is said to be being used in this process will look to block young people’s accounts from suspicious user’s searches. These ‘suspicious’ users will also be restricted from commenting on content as well as seeing what comments young users have left on other’s posts. A ‘suspicious user’ is said to be determined through a variety of different methods but one of the examples given is if that user has been reported in the past or has been blocked by an account from a younger user. 

Keeping Children Safe Online   

Instagram has an age restriction of 13 to create accounts. This new update from Instagram can encourage users under 16 to think more critically about who they might engage with online. If someone under 16 has a private account, it can allow them to experience social media with independency and control but also gives them an added layer of protection against unwanted contact.

Will Gardner CEO of Childnet and Director of UK Safer Internet Centre said “The introduction of Instagram’s teenage privacy settings, which include privacy by default is a welcome change to the platform.  We know that although some young people make the conscious choice to have public profiles, but this new update allows young people to enter a more controlled environment and requires there to be a conscious decision before entering a more public environment, which in itself provides an important educational moment to help prepare for this step.  This change is for new users, and we need to work to address this question of user awareness of privacy choices on existing accounts.”

While these updates are a positive step forward, it is also important to note that these are still not a guaranteed method towards preventing harm online. It is good to talk to young people about what risks there are around interacting with people online which can help develop critical thinking skills towards the right approach. It can also encourage them to speak up and seek support if any issues arise to parents and carers.

ProjectEVOLVE can help to educate around scenarios such as these, using situations that will appear very familiar and highlight the routes available to improve a young person’s online development.

You can also learn more by reading the Childnet’s Family Agreement resource.

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