Facebook and Instagram to Limit Direct Messages for Teens, Requiring Friendship Confirmation

Meta is expanding restrictions on adult users messaging teens in an effort to better protect young people on its platforms Instagram and Messenger. Last year, Instagram prevented adults from direct messaging minors who don’t follow them back. Now, the company is defaulting users under 16 years old (or 18, depending on location) to not receive direct messages from anyone they don’t already follow. This applies even to messages from fellow teens.

For Messenger specifically, young users can now only receive messages from existing Facebook friends or contacts stored in their phones. Since these limitations are the default setting, teens must get guardian approval to change them. The new rules rely on users providing accurate ages and Meta’s age-predicting technology, so they aren’t foolproof. “We want teens to have safe, age-appropriate experiences on our apps,” Meta explained.

This news follows other recent protective measures for youth on Meta’s platforms. Earlier this month, the company said it would hide posts related to self-harm, graphic violence, eating disorders and other harmful topics from users under 16. Additionally, Meta introduced a “nighttime nudge” mindfulness feature that reminds teens to log off Instagram if they’ve been scrolling for over 10 minutes.

These changes address lawsuits and complaints alleging Meta fails to adequately protect young users. A multi-state lawsuit claims the company intentionally targeted children under 13 and continued collecting their data after learning their ages. A Wall Street Journal article accused Instagram of recommending sexualized content to teens via algorithms. In December, New Mexico sued Meta for allegedly recommending inappropriate content to minors on Facebook and Instagram. Internal documents related to that case estimated 100,000 daily harassment incidents of child users. By expanding restrictions around adult-teen messaging, Meta aims to correct its mixed track record on youth safety.