SAN FRANCISCO — Snapchat, the ephemeral messaging app, introduced its first parental controls 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 let parents see whom their teenagers were friends with on the app and whom they had communicated with in the previous seven days. Parents will also be able to report accounts that their children are friends with if they violate Snapchat’s policies. Parents will not be able to see their children’s conversations on the app.
To gain access to the controls, people have to create Snapchat accounts and be friends with their children, who have to agree to the controls. The company said it would introduce additional features later, including one that lets parents see whom their children recently became friends with. Teenagers will also be able to notify their parents if they report accounts or content.
“Our goal was to create a set of tools designed to reflect the dynamics of real-world relationships and foster collaboration and trust between parents and teens,” Snap said in the blog post.
Snap, Instagram, TikTok and other social media companies have faced questions from lawmakers, regulators and activists over toxic content on their platforms that has led some young people to say the apps have worsened eating disorders and contributed to other mental health problems. Snap has also been criticized for how its app enables teenagers to buy drugs like fentanyl.
These issues gained traction last year after a former Facebook employee released internal documents showing that some teenagers appeared to feel worse about themselves after using its products, such as Instagram. Executives from Instagram, Snap, TikTok and YouTube later testified in Congress over whether social media harms young people. In March, a group of state attorneys general asked Snap and TikTok to increase parental controls on their apps.
Other countries have also acted to protect young people from the effects of social media. In September, Britain instituted new child-safety regulations, which spurred platforms such as Instagram to introduce its first parental controls. Instagram’s parental controls let people see and limit how much time their children spend on the app.
Snap has also recently struggled with a declining business. Last month, the company reported its slowest-ever quarterly growth amid a softening economy and challenges to its advertising business.
Snapchat’s parental controls will add to existing restrictions on how teenagers can use Snapchat. Teenagers 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 older than 13, and teenagers cannot change their birth year in the app until they are 18.
The parental controls are available in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They will be available in other countries starting this fall.