Meta-owned Instagram uses facial software for teen safety

June 24, 2022


Facial analysis software is being employed to help teenage Meta-owned Instagram users to prove their age to comply with platform rules.

The app is testing video selfies to de velop the new age-verification method.

Some Instagram users try to swerve the 13-plus rule by entering a false date of birth.

But it seems likely that teens will be asked to choose between uploading identification, seek three adult users to vouch for them or shoot a short clip.

Meta, which has faced criticism over teen and child safety on its platforms, hope the users will have an “age-appropriate experience” on Instagram.

Will Gardner OBE, Chief Executive of Childnet and Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, says the trial is encouraging: “The potential is there to try and help protect children from content which isn’t for them and make their internet experience more age-appropriate.”

Instagram was investigated last year by several US states over children’s experiences on the photo-sharing app after disclosures by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.

The 5Rights Foundation, a UK organisation campaigning for child safety in the digital environment, says such efforts are “long overdue”.

It told the BBC that platforms should “leave behind the ‘don’t look don’t see attitude’ that has led to millions of children being put at risk”.

The organisation addded that “simply knowing the age of your users is not enough”.”

Parents and guardians of teen Instagram users have already been given more tools to check their child’s Instagram use and experience by setting time limits and view details of reports they make on the platform.

Teens could be “nudged” to look seek other content if they are repeatedly looking at the same topics on Instagram’s explore page as wellsas being encouraged to “take a break” if continuously scrolling through reels.

Video selfies have become a popular way for digital platforms – such as online banking apps – to verify users’ age or identity.

According to Hootsuite, quoting a recent poll by Pew Research Center, 11% of US parents say their 9-11 year-olds use Instagram.

While there is a rule that users must over 13 years of age, accounts run by mums, dads or guardians.

The study shpows that the split between male and female users is fairly even – with total male users (50.7%) edging out total female users (49.3%) in the 35 years plus bracket.

Instagram was founded in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, and later acquired by American company Facebook Inc.

The app allows users to upload media that can be edited with filters and organized by hashtags and geographical tagging.

Posts can be shared publicly or with preapproved followers. Users can browse other users’ content by tag and location, view trending content, like photos, and follow other users to add their content to a personal feed.

Instagram rapidly gained popularity, with one million registered users in two months, 10 million in a year, and 1 billion by June 2018.

In April 2012, Facebook Inc. paid $1bn in cash and stock for the business.

Despite being admired for its success, Instagram has also been criticised for negatively impacting teenagers’ mental wellbeing.

A study by Khodarahimi & Fathi in 2017 found evidence for Instagram users displaying higher levels of depressive symptoms.

They reported higher levels of anxiety in Instagram users compared to non-users, while Mackson et al. 2019 suggested beneficial effects of Instagram use on anxiety symptoms. 

Multiple studies pointed out small to moderate positive relationships between time spent on Instagram and trait anxiety, physical appearance anxiety, social anxiety and attention to high insecurity-eliciting body regions.

The relationship between Instagram use and the fear of missing out (FoMo) has been confirmed in multiple studies.

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