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Published on April 12, 2024
Instagram Introduces Blurring Feature for Nudity in DMs to Combat Teen SextortionPhoto by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

Instagram is rolling out new safety measures, including automatically blurring nudity in direct messages, an attempt to shield teens from sextortion, the company announced. These updates are designed to make it harder for scammers and potential criminals to contact and exploit young users on the platform.

According to a blog post from Instagram, the new tools target sextortion, where individuals are coerced into sending explicit images and then threatened with public exposure unless they submit to extortion demands. Instagram's initiative comes in the wake of rising criticism of social media platforms for not sufficiently protecting minors. In response, Meta, which owns Instagram, as well as Facebook and WhatsApp, is beginning to test a feature that blurs images in direct messages that contain nudity, particularly targeting images sent to and from underage users.

The move toward enhancing online safety arrives after several high-profile sextortion cases, such as two Nigerian brothers who confessed to extorting teenage boys in Michigan, leading to a tragic suicide, AP News reported. Meta's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, previously apologized to victims' parents during a Senate hearing.

The feature to blur nudity will be activated by default for users under 18 years old around the globe. Adult users, meanwhile, will receive notifications encouraging them to opt-in. "The feature is designed not only to protect people from seeing unwanted nudity in their DMs, but also to protect them from scammers who may send nude images to trick people into sending their own images in return," Instagram elaborated.

In a statement obtained by Instagram's blog, John Shehan, Senior Vice President of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, lauded Meta's device-side safety measures within its encrypted environment as an encouraging development. Meanwhile, Dr. Sameer Hinduja of the Cyberbullying Research Center praised the nuanced approach that includes educational tips on potential risks.

Measures to identify accounts likely involved in sextortion and to block their interaction with teens are also underway, with Instagram removing the message button on teen profiles from potential scammers and hiding teen accounts in search results. The company has also shared signals about potential sextortion with Lantern, a coalition of technology companies, to disrupt this activity across the internet, as highlighted in their announcement.

Despite the advancements Instagram is making, some experts argue that the efforts don't completely solve the issue. Arturo Béjar, a former Meta engineering director, mentioned to AP News that the tools may protect senders, but questioned what options are available to recipients of such advances. There is still a call for more transparency and resources for young users who are targeted by unwanted sexual advances.

The company's aggressive push to defend its young users from online threats comes amidst a surge in sextortion cases reported by the FBI. A "huge increase" was noted, especially among boys aged 14 to 17, signaling a growing challenge for both parents and platform providers in the digital age.