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Instagram users under 16 now have stricter settings, is it enough?

New settings have rolled out amongst Instagram users, with the most regulation applied to teens under 16, but is it enough?

Two teens looking at viral videos with sound and audio.

When the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook knew teen girls were negatively impacted by the time they spent on Instagram, people who talked to teens weren’t exactly surprised.

When the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee held hearings with star witness Facebook Whistleblower, Frances Haugen, “imploring Congress to take action against the social media giant, which she accused of willfully putting users in danger in pursuit of ‘astronomical profits,” that was a little more surprising, but not if you thought about it for more than a minute.

It’s always been about the money, after all.

And business being business, it wasn’t a surprise to see Facebook respond by saying their research showed different results about the impact of social media on teenagers.

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At the hearings, Meta said they “do internal research to find out how we can best improve the experience for teens, and our research has informed product changes as well as new resources.”

And after showing their research, they also committed to making Instagram a safer space for teens. To be sure, that’s also about the money.

The day for one of those ‘safer space initiatives’ has come.

On August 25, Instagram announced updates to the Sensitive Content Control options for teens.

The Sensitive Content Control only has two options for teens. “Standard” and “Less.”

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From now on the defaults will be “Less” for teens. Teens under 16 already on Instagram will be prompted to change their account to “Less.”

Instagram says the change will “make it more difficult for young people to come across potentially sensitive content or accounts in Search, Explore, Hashtag Pages, Reels, Feed Recommendations and Suggested Accounts.”

In an Aug. 25 blog post, Instagram said they are also testing other ways to improve the safety and privacy of teens and will prompt teens to review their settings.

“We’ll show prompts asking teens to review their settings including controlling who can reshare their content, who can message and contact them, what content they can see and how they can manage their time spent on Instagram,” Instagram said in their post.

For adult Instagram users, the Sensitive Content Control Choice will also include more. More is not an option for teen accounts.

In a Tech Crunch article, Jeanne Moran, Instagram Policy Communications Manager of Youth Safety & Well-Being said, “It’s all in an effort for teams to basically have a safer search experience, to not see so much sensitive content and to automatically see less than any adult would on the platform….We’re nudging teens to choose ‘Less,’ but if they feel like they can handle the ‘Standard’ then they can do that.”

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As Tech Crunch points out, all the safety features depend on teens inputting their actual birthdate.

Social media isn’t going anywhere. Talking to teens there’s an almost unanimous agreement that Instagram makes them feel less satisfied with real life.

The explosion of growth in apps capturing life-like images like BeReal and Locket shows that young social media users crave reality, but the world of potential payoff of Instagram influencers shows a craving for the more glamorous also.

Meta is in the business of profits. It’s good they’re taking teen mental health a little more seriously. Hopefully, they continue to do more.

Users have been clear they need something to change. Meta profits are down for the first time and people are moving on to other platforms.

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Helping to keep teens safe is a step in the right direction.

Mary Beth Lee retired from teaching in Texas this year after 28 years as a student media adviser. She spends her time these days reading, writing, fighting for public education and enjoying the empty nester life in Downtown Fort Worth.

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