Instagram adds parental controls after Meta backlash

The new Instagram tools are part of a commitment to protect teenagers.

Instagram adds parental controls after Meta backlash

Meta Platforms Inc. has launched new parental supervision tools on Instagram after facing criticism from regulators and the public about the app’s harms for young people.

The new tools are part of a commitment to protect teenagers that Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, made in December. That promise came after a whistle-blower testified in October that Facebook had prioritized profit over the well-being of users, especially teens.

The supervision tools are rolling out as part of a new Family Center, which will include an education hub to teach parents how to talk about social media with their teens, the company said in a blog post Wednesday. Meta plans to eventually expand the Family Center into a platform where parents can manage teen social media activity across all of Meta’s apps, the company said.

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The new update to Instagram, already available in the U.S. and slated to roll out globally, allows teens to invite a parent or guardian to supervise their accounts. Vaishnavi J, Meta’s head of youth well-being, said the company worked with parents, teens and parenting experts to create these tools for parental oversight, with the aim of helping them to talk about social media behavior.

“Those types of conversations can be really valuable for parents to have with their teens and it also is a very informed nonjudgmental conversation,” J said in an interview. “It’s really more about, ‘Let’s help you get the best out of your time online,’ rather than saying, ‘This is good and this is bad.’”

Instagram, which says users need to be at least 13, has come under fire for its poor age verification tools, as well as a recommendation algorithm that can push young people to consume harmful content, such as material promoting eating disorders. After backlash, Instagram paused development of a separate product meant for users younger than 13, which would have had similar controls.

The new tools are intended to only be one component—not the entire solution—to keeping teenagers safe online, J said. She cited other work that Instagram has done, like defaulting new teen profiles to private accounts and restricting unconnected adults from starting DMs with teens.

With the new tools, parents can view how much time their child spends on Instagram, who they follow, who follows them and when they report an account to content moderators. A future release will let parents set limits on when teens can’t use Instagram, like during school hours or before bedtime. 

Parents currently need an Instagram account in order to monitor their children’s usage, but the company is exploring the possibility of allowing parents without accounts to supervise their children’s social media presence.

“We know a lot of parents who are not on social media, a lot of parents who are not tech-savvy,” said Ryan Kwok, one of the lead product managers working on parental supervision tools at Meta. 

Meta will also be allowing parents to supervise app usage and downloads with its virtual reality Oculus Quest headsets in the coming months, according to an Oculus statement Wednesday. The new measures come as parents, experts and the British government raised concerns about children encountering violence and harassment in virtual reality.

Parents will be able to lock access to apps they deem inappropriate for their children starting in April. Teens will also be automatically blocked from apps that the International Age Rating Coalition has deemed age-inappropriate starting in May.

Through Oculus’s mobile app, parents will also be able to block apps, view all owned apps and receive notifications of new downloads. Parents can also approve their teen’s requests to purchase apps that have been blocked based on age rating, monitor screen time and access their friends list on Oculus.

As with Instagram’s supervision tools, teenage Oculus users will have to consent to having their parents supervise. On both platforms, teens will be able to view what details their parents see about their accounts.

“Different teens have different maturity levels, and parents know their teens best,” the company said.

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—Bloomberg News