SAN FRANCISCO — Snapchat, the ephemeral messaging app, rolled out its first parental controls on Tuesday, as social media platforms face increasing scrutiny for exposing young users to potentially harmful content.
Snap, Snapchat’s parent company, said in a blog post that its new tools would allow parents to see who their teens were friends with on the app and who they had communicated with in the past seven days. Parents can also report accounts their kids are friends with if they’re violating Snapchat’s policies. Parents cannot see their children’s conversations in the app.
In order to gain access to the controls, users must create Snapchat accounts and be friends with their children, who must consent to the controls. The company said it will roll out additional features later, including one that lets parents see who their kids are recently friends with. Teens can also notify their parents when they report accounts or content.
“Our goal was to create a set of tools that reflect the dynamics of real-world relationships and encourage collaboration and trust between parents and teens,” Snap said in the blog post.
Snap, Instagram, TikTok and other social media companies have been questioned by lawmakers, regulators and activists about toxic content on their platforms, leading some young people to say the apps have exacerbated eating disorders and contributed to other mental health problems. Snap has also been criticized for how its app allows teenagers to buy drugs like fentanyl.
These issues gained traction last year after a former Facebook employee released internal documents showing some teens appeared to feel worse after using Facebook products like Instagram. Instagram, Snap, TikTok and YouTube executives later testified in Congress on whether social media harms young people. In March, a group of attorneys general urged Snap and TikTok to increase parental controls for their apps.
Other countries have also taken steps to protect young people from the effects of social media. In September, the UK introduced new child safety regulations, prompting platforms like Instagram to launch their first parental controls. Instagram parental controls allow users to see and limit how much time their children spend on the app.
Snap has also been struggling with a downturn in business lately. Last month, the company reported its slowest quarterly growth ever amid a slowing economy and challenges for its advertising business.
Snapchat parental controls will add to the existing restrictions on how teens can use Snapchat. Teens currently have to be mutual friends to message each other on the app, and their profiles and friend lists are private. The app requires users to be over the age of 13 and teenagers cannot change their year of birth in the app until they are 18 years old.
Parental controls are available in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They will also be available in other countries from autumn.