Instagram acts on sextortion, introduces ‘nudity protection’

Headshot of Sarah Blake
Sarah Blake
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Instagram has unveiled new measures to combat soaring “sextortion” including blurring nude pictures in messages.
Instagram has unveiled new measures to combat soaring “sextortion” including blurring nude pictures in messages. Credit: wichayada - stock.adobe.com

Social media giant Instagram has unveiled new measures to combat soaring “sextortion” in the wake of the tragic suicide of an Australian boy who took his own life after being targeted by Nigerian fraudsters.

Nude pictures will be blurred in direct messages and teen users will not be able to receive messages from people they don’t know under the changes, which were unveiled on Friday morning.

Incidents of financial sextortion have soared and The Nightly this week revealed that as many as five young Australians have taken their own lives after being targeted by scammers who threatened to disseminate intimate images they had tricked young people into sharing with them.

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To entrap the victims, the scammers set up fake social media accounts on sites such as Instagram and Snapchat and often pretend to be attractive young men or women seeking a relationship with them.

This can take the form of sending unsolicited nude images and convincing the victim to supply theirs in return. The scammers then blackmail the victims, increasingly asking for payment with gift cards, which are difficult to track.

The victims are usually young men and authorities believe there are as many as 1000 victims each month in Australia, many of them too ashamed to speak up out of embarassment and shame.

NSW Police this week announced they arrested two Nigerian men whose actions allegedly drove an Australian teen to take his own life over just $500.

Cybercrime expert Susan McLean told The Nightly she knew of four teens in Victoria alone who had committed suicide after being targeted by the scammers.

Instagram said the changes would be global and would include increased safety warnings.

“While people overwhelmingly use DMs to share what they love with their friends, family or favorite creators, sextortion scammers may also use private messages to share or ask for intimate images,” said the company, which is owned by Facebook owner Meta.

The changes will not apply to other Meta products Facebook and WhatsApp.

“We’ll soon start testing our new nudity protection feature in Instagram DMs, which blurs images detected as containing nudity and encourages people to think twice before sending nude images. This feature is designed not only to protect people from seeing unwanted nudity in their DMs, but also to protect them from scammers who may send nude images to trick people into sending their own images in return.

“Nudity protection will be turned on by default for teens under 18 globally, and we’ll show a notification to adults encouraging them to turn it on.”

Those using nudity protection will also be reminded to be cautious sending private information and people will be able to “unsend” pictures if they change their minds, although this wouldn’t remove any copies of images that have been made.

The change was welcomed by Australia’s acting e-Safety Commisioner Toby Dagg, who said “any moves by tech companies to make their platforms safer, invest in innovative solutions and reduce the risk from harms such as sexual extortion” were welcome.

However he said the social media giants needed to improve transparency to improve overall safety.

“One of the ongoing challenges has been limited transparency around what companies are and are not doing to protect users from harm,” he said.

“We have sent transparency notices to 29 services, including those owned by tech giants Apple, Meta, Microsoft and Google asking key questions about how they are tackling issues including child sexual exploitation and abuse, harmful algorithms and sexual extortion.”

John Shehan, senior vice president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the US, said it was “encouraging”.

“Companies have a responsibility to ensure the protection of minors who use their platforms. Meta’s proposed device-side safety measures within its encrypted environment is encouraging,” he said in a statement released by Meta.

“We are hopeful these new measures will increase reporting by minors and curb the circulation of online child exploitation.”

If you’re in crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kid’s Helpline on 1800 551 800.

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