Instagram’s New Family Center and Supervision Tools Fall Far Too Short in Protecting Kids

NCOSE Press Statement logo

WASHINGTON, DC (March 21, 2022) – The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) says Instagram’s new Family Center and parental tools are simply not robust enough to meaningfully protect children from harmful content, sexual abuse, or predators. 

In a March 16 blog, Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, introduced the Family Center as “a new place for parents and guardians to access supervision tools and resources from leading experts.” These tools are now available in the US and will be more globally accessible in the next few months. With their child’s permission, guardians will be able to monitor time spent on Instagram, see with whom their children are interacting, and will give teens the option to notify parents if they report an account or post. Parents can’t see content their children are accessing or view direct messages. The tools are applied to specific accounts – so there is nothing to prevent minors from creating a secret account, or “finsta.”

“Instagram is consistently noted as a top site used for grooming, sex trafficking, child sex abuse material, and a host of other harms. Instagram allows adults to sexualize minors in the comments and doesn’t prevent sexually explicit images from being direct messaged to minors,” said Lina Nealon, director of corporate and strategic initiatives for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.

“Yet instead of using its vast resources to make substantive changes to its inherently dangerous design that would truly mitigate extensive risks to children, Instagram once again places the burden of protection heavily on parents, and even on children themselves. And where does that leave children that don’t have the privilege of involved, informed parents?” Nealon states.

“NCOSE has been asking Instagram to add parental controls for years, and we acknowledge that Instagram has at least some (long overdue) steps forward to protect kids. But given the gravity and extent of the abuses on the platform, the new ‘tools’ for parents would be laughable if the situation weren’t so serious. Parents can’t even use them without their child’s permission! We’re tired of these incremental changes that seem to be in reaction to public pressure rather than a genuine desire to protect.

“Instagram must fix its inherently dangerous design flaw by defaulting all features to the highest safety, privacy, and content-control settings for minors, continue to reduce the ability for adults to find and contact minors, and remove or disable the most high-risk features altogether, especially for its youngest users,” said Nealon. 

A recent study surveying 1,000 kids ages 9 – 17 found that 1 in 5 Instagram users had a sexual interaction on the platform (22%) and, together with Snapchat, hosted the highest concentration of sexually explicit interactions between minors and adults (13%).

“Despite these knows harms, there is no information, resources or even reference about how to prevent, recognize, or report grooming, sex trafficking, child sex abuse material, or sexually explicit content on the Family Center, in the 67-page Parent Guide, or in the Education hub. To omit this information is deceptive and dangerous,” notes Nealon.

Instagram’s parent company, Meta, is on the 2022 Dirty Dozen List, a NCOSE campaign calling out 12 mainstream corporations for facilitating, enabling, and profiting from sexual exploitation and abuse. The extensive harm on Instagram and other Meta-owned platforms was a key factor in Meta’s inclusion on the list. 

The Numbers

300+

NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.

100+

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.

93

NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.

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