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Instagram Restricts Ads To Under 18s

Studies claim U18s targeted with ads for drinking & extreme dieting 

As it considers opening up its app to a younger audience, Instagram has announced that it’ll change how ads target U18s.

The platform has been mulling over whether it should allow under 13s to use Insta, and this move could be viewed as offering an olive branch to those who think pre-teens shouldn’t be allowed access to the app.

Previously, advertisers could target children with personalised adverts based on their browser data or interests, as well as age, location and gender. That will no longer be an option.

From now on, advertisers will only be able to target U18s (or older in certain countries) with adverts that use location, age and gender data. These updates will roll out globally and will also apply to Facebook and Messenger.

Instagram Blog

We already give people ways to tell us that they would rather not see ads based on their interests or on their activities on other websites and apps. But we've heard from youth advocates that young people may not be well equipped to make these decisions.”

Instagram says it agrees with those youth advocates, which is why it's being more careful about which adverts can reach children. When users turn 18, Insta says it’ll tell them about targeting options and will allow them control over their ad experience.

Underage targeting and age-gating is a problem across Facebook’s range of platforms, including Instagram. A recent study by Reset Australia found that children between the age of 13 -17 were being targeted by ads that promote unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as drinking, smoking or extreme dieting.

Josh Taylor and Christopher Knaus, The Guardian

“The paper examined the use of social media age-restriction controls by 195 leading alcohol brands on Instagram and Facebook, and found large numbers were not shielding their content from children.”

If Instagram wants to be taken seriously as a platform that cares about protecting its young users, it has to do something about the issues highlighted in the report.

Time to pivot away from Instagram?

Brands that drive a lot of engagement with U18s will have to monitor the situation closely, perhaps even considering switching focus elsewhere, subject to how this plays out. However, as these features are designed to safeguard underage users from predatory behaviour, it can’t be criticised too heavily.

It does create openings for brands who market to that demographic on apps such as Snapchat or TikTok – which Insta is engaged in an almost-daily battle with. Those two apps perform stronger among that age bracket anyway, and will now pose greater opportunities to brands.

Further protective measures

Instagram has made other changes to protect underage users.

  • Default private accounts. U16s will now be defaulted into a private account to protect them from hearing from adults they don’t want to hear from.

Instagram Blog

“Our recent research showed that they (U16s) appreciate a more private experience. During testing, eight out of ten young people accepted the private default settings during sign-up.”

U16s will still be able to switch to a public account if they want, but this change provides an extra layer of automatic safeguarding.

  • Stop unwanted contact. Instagram will stop suspicious accounts belonging to adults from interacting with children on the app. Any adult who has been blocked or reported by a child won’t be shown young people’s accounts in Reels, Accounts Suggested For You or Explore, as well as a host of other safeguarding measures.

Instagram Blog

“We’ve developed new technology that will allow us to find accounts that have shown potentially suspicious behavior and stop those accounts from interacting with young people’s accounts.”

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