Snapchat announced new safeguards on its app Thursday to protect teens against unwanted contact and malicious online interactions. The measures aim to provide a more appropriate user experience for youth in the 13 to 17-year-old range as more teens use social media.
“What we're really hoping to do … is to empower parents to be able to have conversations about online safety with their teens, to better understand Snapchat and to make the decisions that are right for them and their families as it relates to online safety,” says Nona Yadegar, director of Design, Strategy and Operations at Snap Inc.
The changes include in-app warnings that pop up when a teen receives a friend request from someone with no mutual contacts and stronger friending protections, which require 13 to 17-year-olds to have multiple mutual friends before showing up in each other's online searches and friend suggestions.
“We're really focused here today on making it harder for strangers to talk to teens,” says Yadegar. “Just like my parents talk[ed] to me about staying safe when going to the mall with friends, it's really important for parents to talk to their kids about staying safe online and what that means.”
Snapchat will also implement a new strike system for taking down accounts promoting age-inappropriate content, where users can report suspect content and repeat offenders’ accounts will be banned. New in-app education content also explains certain online risks to minors and parents and shares resources to help hotlines.
“Knowing that we have a deep responsibility to teen safety, to their mental health motivates me every single day to make sure that we're constantly pushing forward,” says Yadegar.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services -- up to 95% of kids between 13 and 17 years old have reported using social media. With an uptick in social media usage, the industry has come under increased attention related to pitfalls in safeguarding youth interactions and mental health on the app, but parental advisers see this as a step forward for a safer online environment.
“This is important. Kids are going to have to work a lot harder to share their location and to connect with people that they don't know. So this is progress,” says Rachel Simmons, a parenting expert.
Many say, though, that any software changes won’t diminish the importance of good parenting and its impact in helping kids grow up safely in a digital age.
“These changes to the apps are never going to be a substitute for parents checking in with their kids. Parents have to ask questions. They have to set time limits, and they have to sometimes be strict and not take their kids’ no for an answer,” says Simmons. “Kids make it just as hard for us to say no to them as the apps make it hard for kids to say no. So we all have to set boundaries with teenagers and make sure that they know our rules.”
The opinion that apps alone won’t solve everything is shared by Yadegar, who says that a one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t exist for an issue as complex as this.
“There's no silver bullet to online safety. Online safety is constantly evolving. And so for us, we're constantly learning and constantly seeking to make improvements because the safety of our community is paramount, and we're always going to be doing more,” Yadegar said.
The new resources for parents launched today and can be found at https://parents.snapchat.com/.