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  • Writer's pictureMatt Himsworth

Instagram policies raise a little bit of hope for our young sportspeople

Yesterday (16th March 2021) Instagram made an announcement that it was introducing some new policies designed to better protect teenagers on the platform.

There are three headline points and also a Parents' Guide which is helpful - here.

  1. They are testing artificial intelligence in order to seek to identify accounts set up by underage users. The age limit for users on Instagram is 13 (dictated by California's laws which prevent companies from processing the personal data of anyone aged under 13, not because Facebook* have our kids' best interests at heart) and the A.I. in place is designed to pick up warning signs that users may in fact be under that age (and have lied about their date of birth). From a sporting perspective (where many of us have concerns about players under 13 using the platform) this is good news. We would suggest that players with an Instagram bio stating "Baller at [name of club] FC U12" could be in danger of having their account's suspended. No bad thing. We should also add that Facebook's A.I. is extremely advanced. They have used it, on both Instagram and Facebook, to push advertisements that we are likely to react to, they know how long we look at certain types of photos and videos and push more photos and videos like this under our noses, they know what we like, what we dislike, they know what times of the day we are likely to be active, they know when we are likely to be proactive and post, or press the Like button, or click through a website and buy something. The idea that they can work out when we are 11 years old is not beyond the realms of possibility. Using these algorithms for good is encouraging (please use it to deal with hate crime / criminals next please Facebook).

  2. New teenage users will be encouraged to have private accounts. This is a step forward. Our view is that young sportspeople should avoid having a public profile until they are at least at scholarship level (i.e. no younger than 16). Instagram taking this approach, and encouraging teenagers to only make their output available to people they have allowed to follow them, is a positive step.

  3. Adults cannot send Direct Messages to teenagers who don't follow them. Aside from the obvious concern, that some adults may set up accounts with teenage birth dates, this is nevertheless an encouraging sign. Direct Messages on Instagram are the cause of much harm on the platform. Racist language, threats and, of course, predators contacting young people. Anything which reduces the ease with which teenagers can be contacted on Instagram is a positive development. It should eliminate a prevalent problem in sport, which should never occur, of poor quality agents and others contacting teenaged players directly on the platform.

How the new policies will play out, and how effective they will be, we wait to see ...

* Facebook owns Instagram

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