New users of Instagram required to provide their birthday to “help us keep young people safer”

Yesterday Instagram published a set of new policies to help safeguard young people on the platform. Is it enough – or just a drop in the social media ocean?
og:image Instagram style heart logo in rainbow colours
Instagram say they want to provide a safe and positive place. Image: Instagram

All change

Instagram are announcing their new policies under the banner of ‘Making Instagram Safer for the Youngest Members of Our Community’.

Instagram users have a lower average age than some of the big social media platforms. 36.2% are aged 24 or younger. With 500 million daily users, about 181 million young people access the app each day.

Facebook and Twitter platform users are in an older demographic, since both have an average user age of about 40.5 years.

Instagram feed screen shot
Date of birth settings are intended to prevent underage users joining Instagram. Image: Instagram

Birthday verification

New users signing up to Instagram will be asked to provide their date of birth.  Whilst this does not require any formal verification, it will be matched against the user’s Facebook account.

Instagram says that, ‘asking for this information will help prevent underage people from joining Instagram, help us keep young people safer and enable more age-appropriate experiences overall.’

I think this is a good move. Most young people don’t have photo ID, particularly the youngest who won’t yet have a Student ID card.

There are suggestions that lower age limits for social media should be raised. However, I think having a more formal process might prevent young people from being able to engage with their peers.

In honesty, I think the biggest guard against ‘faking’ dates of birth is having the Facebook link!

Young person taking a selfie
Seven out of every ten young people have experienced cyber bullying. Image: Ellen De Vos via Flickr

Social media and age limits

The minimum user age is 13 across InstagramTikTokFacebook and Snapchat.

Instagram says that they will use the birthday information to ‘create more tailored experiences, such as recommended privacy settings for young people‘.

There are also new messaging functions. Instagram users can choose to receive messages only from accounts they follow.

Although it is tagged on to the bottom of the announcement, I think this is the most valuable change! Any Instagram user will likely have experienced unwelcome and often explicit DM’s. Having a way to protect yourself is a positive.

The socially dark side

There is concern about the safety of vulnerable people on social media. Platforms have started to take note.

Pinterest uses AI to restrict access to potentially harmful content. Facebook has introduced tools to assist with healthcare, such as finding your nearest doctor.

Instagram has been testing a change to hide post likes from public view. The idea is to ‘try and depressurize Instagram, make it less of a competition‘.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) reports these alarming facts:

  • 91% of 16-24 year olds use social media
  • It is more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol
  • Rates of anxiety in young people have increased 70% in 25 years
  • Seven in ten young people have experienced cyber bullying
  • Social media is linked with anxiety, depression and lack of sleep
Instagram stories screenshot
Social media use has been linked with anxiety and depression. Image: Instagram

Solutions

The RSPH reports that Instagram and Snapchat are the ‘most detrimental to young people’s mental health and wellbeing‘.

Their Young Health Movement aims to promote the positive whilst protecting against negative influences.

The #StatusofMind report calls for platforms to monitor for digital manipulation of photos.  They suggest that safe social use should be taught in schools. Platforms should be more responsible for identifying vulnerable users and harmful content.

Asking for a date of birth when signing up is a drop in the ocean but, at least, it is a start.

Is this enough or do social media platforms need to do more and whose responsibility is it to monitor young people’s internet activity? 

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