Meta tightens teen message controls

Meta announces steps to protect teens from unwanted contact after a lawsuit claimed it allowed Instagram and Facebook to become a “marketplace for predators.”

The social media company said it would turn off the ability for teens on Instagram and Facebook to receive messages from anyone they do not follow or are not connected to, including other teens.

Remarkably, this will be a default setting for all teens under the age of 16, or under 18 in some countries. To change this setting, teens will have to get the approval of their parents or legal guardians.

“We’re building on our work to provide age-appropriate experiences for teens, and to make it simpler for parents to shape their teens’ online experiences,” Meta said in a blog post announcing the changes.

Teens will also have to ask their parents to approve other privacy and safety settings, such as changing an Instagram account from private to public, or their Sensitive Content Control from “Less” to “Standard.”

The move expands on parental supervision tools introduced on Instagram in 2022, which include the ability for parents to set time limits and schedule breaks, and to be notified when their teen changes their settings.

“Now, parents using supervision will be prompted to approve or deny their teens’ requests to change their default safety and privacy settings to a less strict state – rather than just being notified of the change,” Meta said.

Additionally, the company said it was planning to launch a new feature that would aim to prevent teen users from seeing unwanted and potentially inappropriate images in messages from people in their contacts. Teens would also be urged not to send these types of images themselves. Meta said new features would roll out later this year and will also work in encrypted chats.

Critics say that Meta should have introduced stricter message controls for teens years ago and is only doing so after a lawsuit was filed last year claiming the company “allowed Facebook and Instagram to become a marketplace for predators in search of children upon whom to prey.”

The lawsuit was filed in New Mexico in December by the state’s Attorney General Raul Torrez, who said fake teen accounts set up by his office showed Meta’s platforms were a “breeding ground” for child predators.

It also claimed Meta’s algorithms recommended sexual content to children and asked the court to order the company to take action to protect its underage users, saying it refused to do so voluntarily.

To join Instagram or Facebook, users have to be 13 or older.