Facebook and its sister platform, Instagram, plan to block under-18s from viewing sexual content by implementing an “age-gate”.
The pair will conceal suggestive adverts and images, such as art depicting sexual activity, which are normally allowed, from minors.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, confirmed its intentions to The Telegraph and is likely to roll out this change at the beginning of 2020.
Adverts containing “implicit sexual activity”, images of artworks that depict sexual activity and some fictional depictions of sex, which are allowed on Facebook, will remain visible to adult users.
Those who have given their date of birth to Facebook as lower than 18 will not be able to access such content directly. If they try to do so, for example through an internet address, they will be shown an error message.
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The policy change has come in response to mounting criticism that Facebook’s current policy exposes minors to sexual content, such as images from TV show like Game of Thrones.
The social media giant consulted 25 experts from around the globe on its regulations. The majority urged the company to tighten its rule, while a small minority disagreed, arguing the move would only further sexualise such content.
This is the first time that Facebook has imposed such a restriction on sexual content. It already has age-gate measures in place for content including diet promotions, weight loss pills and image of animal cruelty.
The new rules will not change the company’s policy on explicit sexual content. However, the move has annoyed some who say Facebook is censoring art. Last year the art curator, Ruben Cordova, was permanently banned for uploading pictures of a nude sculpture, a decision his supporters described as “extremely disturbing”.
Due to Facebook’s lack of age verification, the new policy will be limited in its effectiveness. And, although Facebook has a minimum age requirement of 13, one survey by an eMarketer in 2018 found that Facebook had about 600,000 British users under the age of 12.
NSPCC head of child safety online policy, Andy Burrows, said: “It is good to see Facebook taking steps in recognition of the fact that there is content on their platforms that’s unsuitable for children. But these measures look like little more than tinkering around the edges, rather than tackling the more profound clear cut dangers from grooming and abuse every day on their platforms.
“Facebook already has the tech to micro-target ads at under 18s so we simply can’t understand why they won’t use the same tech to put safeguards in place for all their young users across the board to help keep them safe from abuse.”