Instagram has restricted the ability of adults to slide in the DM’s of teenagers who do not follow them on the platform in a move to better protect its younger users.
Under the new rules, adults are blocked from sending a direct message (DM) to any Instagram user under 18 who does not follow them.
When adults try to do so, they’ll see the message: ‘You can’t message this account unless they follow you.’
Instagram has also made it more difficult for adults who have been ‘exhibiting potentially suspicious behaviour’ to find and follow teenagers in parts of the app like Explore and Reels, as well as under ‘Suggested Users’.
‘Potentially suspicious behaviour’ could be sending a large amount of friend or message requests to teenage users, for example.
It’s also sending safety alerts to users aged under 18 to encourage them to be cautious in conversation with ‘suspicious’ adults that they’re connected to.
All these features are being rolled out from today. Instagram is also now developing new artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to help it better identify the real age of younger users, it also revealed.
The Facebook-owned photo sharing app acknowledged that some young people were lying about how old they were in order to access the platform.
Its terms of service require all users to be at least 13 years old to have an account.
‘While many people are honest about their age, we know that young people can lie about their date of birth,’ Instagram said in a blog post on Tuesday.
‘We want to do more to stop this from happening, but verifying people’s age online is complex and something many in our industry are grappling with.
‘To address this challenge, we’re developing new artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to help us keep teens safer and apply new age-appropriate features.’
Instagram said the new safety alerts, which aim to encourage teens to be cautious in conversations with adults they’re already connected to, will appear in DMs.
‘Safety notices in DMs will notify young people when an adult who has been exhibiting potentially suspicious behaviour is interacting with them in DMs,’ it said.
The safety notice will pop-up when the adult is messaging them, giving them the option to report, block or restrict them.
The alerts will say things like: ‘You don’t have to respond to messages that annoy you or make you uncomfortable’ and ‘be careful with sharing photos, videos or information with someone you don’t know’.
Instagram is also encouraging teens to make their accounts private.
It recently added a new step when someone under 18 signs up for an Instagram account that gives them the option to choose between a public or private account.
‘Our aim is to encourage young people to opt for a private account by equipping them with information on what the different settings mean,’ the firm said.
If the teen doesn’t choose ‘private’ when signing up, they’ll be sent a notification later on the benefits of a private account.
The online safety of teenagers using social media has been a key issue for technology firms.
Companies are under continued scrutiny in the wake of repeated warnings from industry experts and campaigners over the dangers for young people online.
The government is set to introduce an Online Safety Bill later this year, which will enforce stricter regulation around protecting young people online and harsh punishments for platforms found to be failing to meet a duty of care.
Instagram said it believes ‘everyone should have a safe and supportive experience’ on the platform.
‘Protecting young people on Instagram is important to us,’ it said.
‘These updates are a part of our ongoing efforts to protect young people, and our specialist teams will continue to invest in new interventions that further limit inappropriate interactions between adults and teens.’
In the blog post, Instagram also slipped in that it’s moving to end-to-end encryption, so it’s investing in features that ‘protect privacy and keep people safe’.
End-to-end encryption ensures only the two participants of a chat stream can read messages, and no one in between – not even the company that owns the service.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is looking to roll out end-to-end encryption to both Instagram and Facebook Messenger at some undefined point in the future – even though child protection agencies have continuously warned against it.