Instagram will limit sensitive content for new teen users by default

Existing users under the age of 16 years old will be asked to switch to the most restrictive content setting.

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Instagram will automatically switch on its most restrictive content filter for any new users who are under 16 years old — and recommend that existing teen users do the same, the platform announced today in a blog post. Instagram renamed its existing content settings earlier this summer, which are now categorized as “Less”, “Standard” and “More” and allow users to limit content containing violence, sexual imagery, cosmetic procedures and other “sensitive” subjects. Only users over the age of 18 years old can access the “More” setting, which offers up the least filtered version of Instagram available to the public. (Note: This may cause confusion for some users accustomed to Instagram's older settings, where the "Limit Even More" option meant the strictest controls on content.)

Now, new Instagram users under 16 years old will have the “Less” setting turned on by default, which will affect the type of content they see throughout the platform, including in Search, Reels, suggested accounts, hashtags and in-feed recommendations. Instagram will also ask all existing teen users to perform a “settings check-up” and limit who can share their content, direct message them and what kind of content their followers can view. It’ll also ask teens if they want to update a feature that lets them limit the amount of time they spend on Instagram.

An Instagram spokesperson told Engadget that one example of the type of content that the "Less" setting would restrict (that the Standard setting would not) is video footage from a protest gone violent. The content settings only apply to accounts that teens don't currently follow.

Growing concern over the psychological and emotional toll of Instagram for its youngest users prompted a Senate panel last year to bring in head Adam Mosseri for questioning. Ahead of the hearing, the platform unveiled new teen safety features, including one that notified users if they were spending too much time on the app and an option to automatically report that objectionable content to their parents. And earlier this year, Instagram launched parental controls that allow guardians to monitor who their teen follows and impose time limits on the app.

Mental health experts have warned that parental controls on social media can only go so far — especially given the fact that algorithms are known to slip up and reveal risky content. Tech-savvy teens can also easily bypass such parental controls or simply view the content of their choice on a different platform or on a friend’s phone.

This recent change likely won’t be too impactful for teen users whose parents or guardians already control their accounts through Instagram’s Family Center. And for teens who are allowed to roam free on Instagram, it’s hard to imagine how many will willingly switch on the most restrictive content settings — especially if many of their peers pick the more lenient filter.