Meta, the parent company of popular social media platforms Instagram and Facebook, has recently announced that it is expanding and updating its child safety features. This comes in the midst of increasing reports regarding the platforms recommending inappropriate and sexual content involving children. Despite the criticism, Meta aims to address these concerns and create a safer environment for young users.
Several reports by The Wall Street Journal have shed light on concerning issues within Instagram and Facebook’s recommendation systems. In one report from June, it was revealed how Instagram facilitated a network of accounts involved in the buying and selling of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) through its recommendations algorithm. Another investigation showed that Facebook Groups also harbored an ecosystem of pedophile accounts and groups, some with an alarming number of members. These discoveries highlighted the failings of Meta’s recommendation system, which allowed abusive accounts to connect and thrive within the platforms.
In response to these revelations, Meta has outlined a series of measures to enhance child safety on Instagram and Facebook. One key change is the imposition of limits on the interactions between “suspicious” adult accounts. On Instagram, these accounts will no longer be able to follow one another, won’t receive recommendations, and their comments will be invisible to other “suspicious” accounts. Furthermore, Meta has expanded its list of terms, phrases, and emojis related to child safety and is now utilizing machine learning to detect connections between different search terms. The company hopes that these updates will help to prevent the circulation of inappropriate content involving children.
The reports on Instagram and Facebook’s child safety concerns coincide with mounting pressure from US and EU regulators. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, alongside other prominent tech executives, will testify before the Senate in January 2024 regarding online child exploitation. Additionally, the EU regulators have given Meta a deadline to provide information on how it protects minors, particularly in relation to the circulation of self-generated child sexual abuse material (SG-CSAM) on Instagram. These regulatory actions demonstrate the urgent need for Meta to address the safety concerns raised by its platforms.
The Journal’s coverage has also had repercussions in the advertising realm. Bumble and Match, two prominent dating app companies, suspended their advertising on Instagram following the reports. The companies found their ads appearing alongside explicit content and Reels videos that sexualized children. This serves as a stark reminder of the connection between platform responsibility and brand reputation, prompting companies to take swift action in response to public outcry regarding child safety.
While Meta’s efforts to enhance child safety on Instagram and Facebook are commendable, the company still faces substantial criticism. The recent revelations by The Wall Street Journal have shed light on serious issues within the platforms’ recommendation systems. It is imperative that Meta continues to take proactive measures to protect young users from inappropriate and abusive content. The regulatory scrutiny and advertising fallout only amplify the urgency for Meta to address these concerns effectively. As users and stakeholders, we must hold Meta accountable for creating and maintaining a safe online environment for children.