Instagram Announces Tools to Curb Sextortion to Protect Teens – The TechLead

Key Takeaways:

  • Instagram is working on new tools to tackle sextortion and protect teens from online scammers
  • The first set of features will roll out in the DMs, helping teens recognize potential scammers and blurring photos containing nudity
  • While the safety features will be turned on by default for underage users, adults are also encouraged to use them

On Thursday, Instagram announced that it will be launching new tools to protect underage users (under 16 or 18, depending on their country) from sexual exploitation on the platform.

The news comes from a blog posted by the social media platform that said they are already testing out new tools to tackle the growing cases of “Sextortion” – a practice in which a person persuades another to send sexually explicit images and then threatens to leak them online if they don’t pay up or do whatever’s asked of them.

Feature #1 – Blurring Explicit Media

Talking about the tools, the blog said that one feature will automatically blur nudity in direct messages so that teens cannot get bombarded with unsolicited inappropriate pictures. It will be turned on by default for underage users but adults will also be encouraged to use it.

Feature #2 – Pop-Ups

The platform has also decided to show popups when a user tries to send a sensitive image.

For example, it might happen that a teen has been persuaded into sending nudes and they willingly try to share it through DMs. In that case, a popup will show up reminding them of the risks of sending that photo.

Instagram Child Safety Popup

Similarly, when a user receives an image containing nudity, they will get another popup reminding them that it’s okay to not respond if they don’t want to. This popup will be followed by an option to view the safety tips or to block the user.

These hurdles might make the user rethink their decision and step back.

Feature #3 – Helpline Number

Last, but not the least, the company has decided to make it harder for scammers to find potential targets and will add child safety helplines to the app’s in-built reporting tool.

It’s important to note that Instagram uses on-device machine learning to check whether an image has nudity. Since the analysis is happening on the device itself, the picture will be protected by end-to-end encryption and Meta workers will not have access to that image, unless someone reports it.

Instagram’s fight against sextortion doesn’t end at just protecting the victims.

  • Once a scammer has been identified, their account is immediately removed and they are barred from creating a new account in the future.
  • Depending on the severity of the crime, they might also be reported to NCMEC and other regulatory authorities.

Why Is Instagram Suddenly Focusing on Teen Safety and Sextortion?

The company said that the protection of minors has always been one of its most important agendas.

“We’ve spent years working closely with experts, including those experienced in fighting these crimes, to understand the tactics scammers use to find and extort victims online, so we can develop effective ways to help stop them.” the blog said.

Some child safety measures employed by Instagram:

  • Instagram already imposes stricter rules on teen DMs so that users who aren’t connected to them can’t send them a text.
  • It also displays safety notices to teens who are already in contact with a potential scammer.
  • If anyone is threatening to leak their private images, Instagram provides a built-in reporting tool to report the DM and the scammer.
  • Instagram is also one of the founding members of Lantern – a platform that helps tech companies share insights about accounts and certain behavior patterns that might violate their child safety policy.
  • Furthermore, it helped the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) develop a platform called, Take It Down, that helps people prevent their personal images from ending up online.

It’s clear that Instagram is already doing a lot to prevent financial sextortion. But a huge trigger behind this new initiative might be the recent high-profile cases.

  • In one instance, a Virginia-based sheriff’s deputy sexually extorted and kidnapped a 15-year-old girl.
  • In another case, two Nigerian brothers sexually exploited teen boys and young men in Michigan. One of the victims took their life after the incident.

On top of that, both Instagram and Facebook faced severe criticism for not doing enough to curb online crimes on their platform. During a senate hearing earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg had to apologize to the parents and families of the victims of such abuse.

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