Instagram's latest update helps protect teen users from 'sextortion' and scammers - here are 3 key changes parents need to know about

The changes promise to 'empower' teens to say no to anything that makes them uncomfortable

A phone screen with the Instagram logo
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Three new Instagram features are being introduced to help protect teens from 'sextortion scams' and encourage them to report harmful content.

For several years now, the impact of social media on young people has been a growing concern. Spending time on apps like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram has been linked to mental health issues, risks of exploitation and exposure to inappropriate content, it's no surprise that parents are wondering how safe TikTok is for kids and looking for tips to keep kids safe on social media.

But while it often feels like social media bosses are doing little to help ease parents' concerns - especially as Meta comes under fire for its 'highly irresponsible' minimum age change on WhatsApp - Instagram has recently made changes to the platform that could help protect young users from scammers and 'sextortion'.

In a blog post shared on Instagram's website, the platform explained, "We’re testing new features to help protect young people from sextortion and intimate image abuse, and to make it more difficult for potential scammers and criminals to find and interact with teens."

It added, "We’re also testing new ways to help people spot potential sextortion scams, encourage them to report and empower them to say no to anything that makes them feel uncomfortable."

We've shared three crucial changes that parents need to be aware of are...

1. Nudity protection in DMs

This new feature blurs images detected as containing nudity and encourages people to think twice before sending nude images. It's designed to not only protect people from seeing unwanted nudity in messages, but also to protect people from scammers who may try to trick them into sending explicit pictures in return.

Instagram explained: "Nudity protection will be turned on by default for teens under 18 globally, and we’ll show a notification to adults encouraging them to turn it on.

"When nudity protection is turned on, people sending images containing nudity will see a message reminding them to be cautious when sending sensitive photos, and that they can unsend these photos if they’ve changed their mind."

In addition, anyone who tries to forward a nude image they’ve received will see a message encouraging them to reconsider, while those who receive an image containing nudity will receive an automated message encouraging them not to feel pressure to respond.

2. Preventing scammers from connecting with teens

Instagram is developing technology to help identify where accounts may potentially be engaging in sextortion scams based on a range of signals that could indicate sextortion behaviour, and taking precautionary steps to help prevent these accounts from finding and interacting with teen accounts.

Any message requests potential sextortion accounts try to send will go straight to the recipient’s hidden requests folder, meaning they won’t be notified of the message and never have to see it. For those who are already chatting to potential scam or sextortion accounts, the app will show safety notices encouraging them to report any threats to share their private images, and reminding them that they can say no to anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Instagram added, "We already restrict adults from starting DM chats with teens they’re not connected to, and in January we announced stricter messaging defaults for teens under 16 (under 18 in certain countries), meaning they can only be messaged by people they’re already connected to - no matter how old the sender is."

Now, Instagram won't show the 'Message' button on a teen's profile to potential sextortion accounts, even if they’re already connected, and will be making it harder to find teen accounts.

It's worth noting that this will only protect teens if they have been honest about their age when setting up their account.

3. Resources for people who have been approached by scammers

Instagram is testing new pop-up messages for people who may have interacted with an account that has been removed for sextortion. The message will direct them to expert-backed resources, including the Stop Sextortion Hub, support helplines, the option to reach out to a friend, for those over 18, and Take It Down for those under 18.

The social media platform also said: "We’re also adding new child safety helplines from around the world into our in-app reporting flows. This means when teens report relevant issues - such as nudity, threats to share private images or sexual exploitation or solicitation - we’ll direct them to local child safety helplines where available."

In related news, media regulator Ofcom has said "violent content has become a normal part of children’s online lives", as they push for new online safety measures, and a new Facebook rollout means parents are being advised to “think carefully” about letting their children use the social media platform. Elsewhere, the seven social media concerns parents are most worried about have been revealed, as a new study shows half of teens admit they’re addicted to it.

Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.