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Instagram to test blurring nudity in messages to protect teens from sextortion

The platform said it wants "people to think twice before sending nude images."
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Instagram said it plans to test a new feature in an effort to curb sextortion on its platform.

The “nudity protection” feature, which has several functions, is designed to help prevent users from receiving unwanted sexual images and encourage “people to think twice before sending nude images,” according to a blog post the platform published Thursday.

The feature, which will automatically be turned on for users under age 18, will blur images that are detected as containing nudity. There will also be a warning that reads, “Photo may contain nudity.”

Additionally, the platform said it will push a message to users “reminding them to be cautious when sending sensitive photos, and that they can unsend these photos if they’ve changed their mind.” They will also be directed to Meta’s Safety Center and support helplines

"These updates build on our longstanding work to help protect young people from unwanted or potentially harmful contact," Instagram said in the blog post. "We default teens into stricter message settings so they can’t be messaged by anyone they’re not already connected to, show Safety Notices to teens who are already in contact with potential scam accounts, and offer a dedicated option for people to report DMs that are threatening to share private images."

The platform's announcement comes as efforts to regulate social media continue to ramp up across the U.S. amid concerns from some that the platforms don’t do enough to keep kids safe online.

Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed a bill that bans children under 14 from having social media accounts. The law is expected to face legal challenges over claims that it violates the First Amendment.

In December, more than 200 organizations sent a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to schedule a vote on the Kids Online Safety Act, or KOSA, which seeks to create liability, or a “duty of care,” for apps and online platforms that recommend content to minors that can negatively affect their mental health.

In January, lawmakers grilled CEOs from TikTok, X and Meta about online child safety. The tech executives reaffirmed their commitment to child safety and pointed to various tools they offer as examples of how they are proactive about preventing exploitation online.

Instagram said in its blog post that it has spent years working with experts "to understand the tactics scammers use to find and extort victims online, so we can develop effective ways to help stop them."

Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University, was among the experts who applauded Instagram's efforts.

The new feature will reduce "unwanted exposure to potentially traumatic images, gently introduces cognitive dissonance to those who may be open to sharing nudes, and educates people about the potential downsides involved," Hinduja said in a statement in Instagram's blog post.

Instagram said it also supported the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in developing Take It Down, a service that helps to remove nude or partially nude images of minors online. The service is among the resources that users under 18 will be referred to by Instagram. Users older than 18 will be directed to the website Stop Non-Consensual Intimate Image Abuse, which is operated by the Revenge Porn Helpline.

Instagram emphasized that it already takes "severe action" when it becomes "aware of people engaging in sextortion." In January, the platform also announced stricter messaging defaults for teens under 16.

"Now, we won’t show the 'Message' button on a teen’s profile to potential sextortion accounts, even if they’re already connected," the platform said Thursday. "We’re also testing hiding teens from these accounts in people’s follower, following and like lists, and making it harder for them to find teen accounts in Search results."

A spokesperson for Meta, which owns Instagram, told NBC News that the new features will start testing in the coming weeks and roll out globally in the coming months.