Instagram: Insta Puts The Parent Filter On Top

How can children use Instagram safely? The platform wants to help with new functions and a guide for parents. But unfortunately a fundamental problem remains.

Instagram is considered the platform of perfectly filtered beauty: What you see there is usually more aesthetic and graceful than reality, thanks to soft focus and brightly colored filters.

But the problems of the platform can no longer be filtered out for a long time. Conspiracy theories are spread on Instagram, and there is harassment and harassment. Many people are also concerned about what the perfectly staged images will do to users. Internal studies by the company are said to show that the platform is particularly damaging to the self-image of young women, as the Wall Street Journal made public in a series of reports under the name Facebook Files. On Wednesday, Instagram boss Adam Mosseri has to face the questions of the US Congress.

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The fact that, apart from Facebook, Instagram is also increasingly gaining the reputation of a rather unpleasant place, is particularly unfavorable for the company, which has recently been known as Meta. For the company, Instagram is the gateway to the world of young users: Among young people aged 13 to 17, Instagram is one of the most popular apps after Snapchat and TikTok - Facebook has not been able to keep up with this for years. The company is therefore using Instagram to recruit young people in the hope that over time they will grow into the company's other major platform, Facebook, the Wall Street Journal recently put it. So what happens on Instagram also determines Meta's future.

How hard Instagram tries to convince children and especially their parents of its greatness is now made clear by two announcements by the platform: On Tuesday, it announced new functions for the coming year that are intended to better protect young users in particular. And last week, the social network published a new guide for parents and carers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, which explains how they can talk to children via the platform and what options there are, for example to moderate interactions with others.

More functions, more protection?

Some of the new functions are intended for all users, such as the new " Take a break" function: If you want, you can set the platform to remind you after ten, 20 or 30 minutes to take a break from scrolling. In order for teenagers to stop this function, they will be asked to do so, the blog post says. And Instagram is planning a function that will direct people to other content if they only deal with one topic for too long. This is to prevent you from getting lost in doom scrolling, for example.

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Many of the new functions that Instagram wants to implement in 2022 are primarily intended to protect children and young people through technical restrictions: For example, minors who create a new account should no longer be able to be marked or mentioned by default by people they do not follow. In addition, adults should only be able to include reels, i.e. short videos, from minors who also follow them. This fits in with Instagram's existing rules that adults can't send messages to anyone under the age of 18 who doesn't follow them.

Instagram also wants to check which standard settings will apply to children and young people in the future. In the summer, the company presented a function that should be able to filter out sensitive content. For children and adolescents, this was preset by default for the page on which you can discover new content. Instagram is now considering expanding the function to other areas, specifically to search, reels and suggested accounts. The work on the feature is still at the beginning.

Other functions are used to ensure that parents and guardians take care of the Instagram life of their proteges. In the future, they should be able to see how much time a child or young person spends on Instagram and set a daily limit - with the young people's consent.

The platform also wants to develop a new information area. This should contain instructions for certain functions as well as tips from experts. The guidelines for parents and carers for children and adolescents, which Instagram presented last week for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, are structured in a similar way. It reads like a clearly prepared list of some of the functions that Instagram provides: how to set an account to private, how to report annoying comments, how to hide likes, where you can see how much time you've spent on Instagram.

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We see our guide as a building block to protect teenagers in social media

Alexander Kleist, Head of Public Policy at Instagram

May there be parents who are on Instagram themselves and know many functions. 

Others may use the platform less or not at all

Parents take over!

What the announcements show: Instagram seems to have arrived that it needs to address its deep-seated problems. How much of this happens from a philanthropic perspective and how much from a business perspective is difficult to judge. The measures can actually give users (and their legal guardians) more options to control what they see in the app. Conversely, this also means: Instagram is offloading responsibility from its customers.

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The question arises as to whether a little more parental care solves the problems that children and young people are confronted with on Instagram - or whether Instagram should not have more control over what happens on its platform.

Like other social networks such as TikTok, Instagram is designed in such a way that people spend as much time as possible on the platform. Algorithms decide what is displayed based on the user's behavior. If she watches a cute dog video, she may simply get more of it in the feed. The same logic can work with sensitive content such as anorexia: If you follow accounts on the topic, you will see more of it in other ways.

Instagram is now moderating such sensitive topics more strongly. In the search for anorexia, for example, it intervenes a note that one wants to support the community with body awareness and refers to a website with offers of help. And yet it is mainly Instagram that decides what happens on Instagram.   

We recommend our community again and again: If certain content is not good for you, unfollow the corresponding profiles

Alexander Kleist, Head of Public Policy at Instagram

Alexander Kleist sees it differently. Every user has an individual experience on Instagram, he says. Users could decide for themselves how they used the platform and who to follow. This would give them "a very big influence" on shaping their experience: "We recommend our community again and again: If certain content is not good for you, unfollow the corresponding profiles."

Conversely, for children and adolescents this also means that they or their parents should ultimately do what Instagram cannot: guarantee protection. To put it bluntly: If an underage user is bullied about the platform, spends too much time there or feels bad about certain content, then Instagram would no longer be to blame. No, the child and his parents simply would not have used the settings correctly.

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