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Instagram Makes Teens Think Twice Before Sharing Nude Photos

by Suzanne Kantra on April 12, 2024

Sharing photos online has become second nature for many teens, but the dangers of explicit images falling into the wrong hands are all too real. As a parent of kids ages 15-22, I know that even the smartest kids can make foolish choices in the heat of the moment, not fully grasping the potential consequences. From legal ramifications to emotional distress and reputational damage, the risks of sharing nude photos are significant.

Instagram warning to not feel pressured into sharing photos shown on phone.

A study published in PLOS ONE found that approximately 14.9% of teens had sent explicit images of themselves, while 31.4% had received such images. The consequences can be severe, ranging from criminal charges to lasting emotional trauma. Compounding the issue is the increasing presence of online predators who actively seek out and exploit vulnerable teens. According to an FBI report, there was a 20% increase in reported financially motivated sextortion incidents involving minor victims from October 2022 to March 2023 compared to the same period the previous year.

Read more: Investment Scams Surge: New FBI Report Warns of Record Losses

Instagram and other platforms have been called out on their lack of action. But the platform is taking a step in the right direction with the introduction of new security features aimed at safeguarding teens. Rolling out soon, Instagram's new security features use machine learning algorithms to detect potential nudity in images. When a teen tries to send a nude photo, they'll receive a warning message reminding them of the risks and encouraging them to reconsider, providing a critical moment for teens to pause and reflect on their choices.

If a teen receives an explicit image, it will be automatically blurred, and if they open the photo, Instagram shows an alert before revealing it. Through the alert, they can block the sender and access safety tips.

Two screenshots of Instagram DM chat. On the left you see a chat with a blurred out photo. On the right you a warning from Instagram to: Take care when sharing sensitive photos.

Are these warning messages enough? I asked Yaron Litwin, CMO of the Canopy Parental Control App, to weigh in. "The new warning messages are not enough of a barrier to children falling prey to sextortion. Some kids may come to their senses because of them, but many others will proceed to make dangerous decisions if no mechanism is actually preventing them from doing so, nor notifying their parents or other authorities."

As a parent of teens, I agree with Litwin's take. I have found parental controls and other security measures can be helpful, but kids are ingenious and can usually find workarounds. Instead of only putting up guardrails, I've tried to instill in my kids that everything they share online could potentially become public. I call it the "grandmother test" when deciding whether to share something online. If you feel comfortable showing what you're about to post to your grandmother, then it's probably safe to share.

Read moreFinally, a Car Mount that Isn't an Eyesore: Scosche MagicMount

Instagram's new security features are a helpful addition to protect teens online. However, keeping our teens safe requires a team effort between platforms, parents, and the teens themselves.

[Image credit: Meta]

For the past 20+ years, Techlicious founder Suzanne Kantra has been exploring and writing about the world’s most exciting and important science and technology issues. Prior to Techlicious, Suzanne was the Technology Editor for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and the Senior Technology Editor for Popular Science. Suzanne has been featured on CNN, CBS, and NBC.


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