On January 19th, Snapchat announced new security measures to their platform in order to make it harder for adults to connect with adolescents they don’t know. This change was prompted by a desire to protect children from people trying to sell them drugs, but it could also help protect children from other predators, such as traffickers.
Connecting with “new people” (also known as: strangers) on the internet is a huge vulnerability to exploitation. Predators exploit social media’s inadequate default settings to easily find and connect with children. Sometimes predators do this using friend lists, and sometimes social media platforms even “help” facilitate predators’ work by recommending new friends/followers. Recognizing this, Snapchat has announced that the accounts of 13-17 year olds will no longer appear on the “Quick Add” friend feature, which recommends new friends unless they have “a certain number of friends in common with that person.”
Love146 is excited to see Snapchat proactively limit the extent to which adults can connect with children they don’t know on their platform, as well as their acknowledgement that this change is not foolproof. Ensuring the safety of children online requires a multi-pronged approach. Social media platforms must ensure that the default settings for children are as safe and secure as possible, and we must also acknowledge that even the best default settings must be accompanied by efforts to provide comprehensive internet safety training to youth.
As an organization fighting child trafficking that works with young people across the globe, we have seen firsthand how many children are being recruited online for further exploitation. We’re not saying being online is inherently bad. With a combination of tech companies taking common sense steps to protect children, as well as increased online safety understanding amongst youth and families, teens can enjoy themselves online while avoiding predators. If you’re a parent or caregiver who wants support in navigating conversations about online safety with youth, check out resources for caregivers here.
Technology companies have a moral obligation to ensure that their platforms are as safe as possible – especially if they’re actively inviting children to set up accounts, as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and others do. Proactive security measures like this one from Snapchat are critical, and we encourage more social media companies to follow Snapchat’s lead.
If you are interested in advocating for similar changes on other platforms, please sign our petition asking Facebook to change the default privacy settings for children on their platform.