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Instagram Makes New Under 16 Profiles Private by Default

Instagram have announced some new changes to how young people’s social media accounts can be managed. These features have been introduced to prevent unwanted followers and messages from strangers. This has been done to help keep children and young people safe online whilst allowing them to continue in experiencing the benefits of social media.

Research from Instagram found that children and young people generally preferred having a more private account, allowing them to socialise with known friends and family, without having to interact with people they don’t know.

Private Accounts for Under 16s  

When a child under 16 signs up for an Instagram account, they will now be automatically set to private and will have to actively take steps in order to switch their account to public. This is not a fixed feature as accounts can be switched to public at any time and established accounts that are already public will not be automatically transferred to private.  Despite this, existing accounts of under 16s that are set as public will receive a notification promoting the benefits of private accounts.

Private accounts give more control for young people on the platform, primarily restricting who can see and comment on their content. When an account is private, followers need to be accepted by  the user before they are able to view and engage with posts or stories. This applies across the wider reach of Instagram so if a user uses hashtags, then the content won’t appear in a hashtag search of anyone who is not a follower.

Preventing Unwanted Contact from Strangers 

As part of the new privacy update, there have been extensive measures taken to try and prevent unwanted contact from adults online. Instagram are using their technology to find accounts that show signs of ‘suspicious behaviour’ and preventing them from seeing and engaging with younger accounts.

The technology will aim to block young people’s accounts from searches whilst preventing ‘suspicious’ users from commenting on their content or seeing what comments young people have left on posts. The technology is said to determine a ‘suspicious user’ through a variety of methods but an example given is if a user has been reported in the past or had a history of being blocked by a younger account. 

Keeping Children Safe Online   

Instagram adopts an age restriction of at least 13 for young people to create new accounts. This new update is a positive step forward in encouraging children under 16 to think critically about who they engage with online. A private account can allow younger children to experience social media with a sense of control but with the added layer of comfort of knowing that followers can be limited to known friends and family.

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."

It is important to note though that these updates are not a guaranteed method of preventing harm online. If you are concerned about young people accepting strangers as followers, then it is good to talk to them about the risks associated with interacting with people online so they can go on to develop their own critical thinking skills and determine what is the right approach. It also encourages them to come forward if issues arise and gives them confidence when navigating the internet freely.

Situations such as these is what ProjectEVOLVE aims to educate on, using scenarios that are very familiar and highlighting routes to improve young people’s online development.

If you want to learn more about starting a discussion, you can read the Childnet’s Family Agreement resource.