Meta tightens content restrictions for teens on Instagram, Facebook

Meta announced its intent to heighten content restrictions for teenagers on Instagram and Facebook, responding to global regulatory pressure to shield minors from harmful online material. The company’s strategy involves enforcing stringent content controls for all teens across both apps, as well as limiting additional search terms specifically on Instagram.

The adjustments aim to reduce the likelihood of adolescents encountering distressing content related to suicide, self-harm, and eating disorders through features like Search and Explore on Instagram. This shift, slated for gradual implementation in the following weeks, aims to curate a more “age-appropriate” digital environment.

However, Meta faces mounting scrutiny in the United States and Europe over allegations of app-induced addiction contributing to a youth mental health crisis. Thirty-three U.S. states, including California and New York, filed a lawsuit accusing the company of repeatedly downplaying its platform’s risks. Similarly, the European Commission has sought insights into Meta’s measures for safeguarding minors from illicit and harmful content.

These concerns escalated following a former Meta employee’s testimony in the U.S. Senate, asserting that the company was aware of teens encountering harassment and other dangers on its platforms but failed to take adequate action. The employee, Arturo Bejar, critiqued Meta’s recent changes, claiming they still inadequately address teens’ experiences of harm and lack effective reporting mechanisms for unwanted interactions.

Facebook and Instagram, once pivotal for teen engagement, have witnessed declining use among this demographic, while TikTok’s popularity surged. In 2023, a Pew Research Center survey highlighted that 63% and 59% of U.S. teens reported using TikTok and Instagram, respectively, with only 33% using Facebook. Despite Meta’s attempts to tailor experiences and respond to regulatory pressure, the challenge of navigating adolescent safety and engagement in a rapidly evolving digital landscape persists.