Instagram, like the other big social networks, has an online toxicity problem.
There may be controls, to block, report, and mute users, but the better way to police the situation is to try to sensitize users to the consequences of bullying. And Instagram may have finally realised that.
The social network has just announced two new features designed to combat harassment and verbal online.
Instagram announced two new features today that it said are designed to combat online bullying. It seems they’re finally smartening up and trying to find ways to cut off bullying at the source.
“We can do more to prevent bullying from happening on Instagram, and we can do more to empower the targets of bullying to stand up for themselves,” wrote Instagram head Adam Mosseri in the announcement. “Today we’re announcing one new feature in both areas. These tools are grounded in a deep understanding of how people bully each other and how they respond to bullying on Instagram, but they’re only two steps on a longer path.”
The first feature reportedly uses artificial intelligence to analyse comments as you type them. If the AI flags something as abusive or “offensive” it prompts the user when they try to post, asking them, “Are you sure you want to post this?” It then gives them the option to undo what they typed.
It might seem like a fairly useless feature, given that people can simply bypass this by saying ‘Yes’. The idea though is that at least some people engaging in abuse might simply be overcome by emotion and therefore not thinking. In that case, giving them a moment to calm down and rethink their action could benefit, even if that’s just a small number of them.
In fact, this isn’t even an original idea. An Indian girl living in the US proposed a similar solution way back in 2015. Trisha Prabhu, who was 15 at the time, designed a software she named ReThink. It also used scanned typed entries on a variety of online platforms to flag phrases often used to cyber bully victims. ReThink also asked the potential abusers in that case to reconsider.
The other new feature from Instagram, which has yet to begin testing, will be the ability to “restrict” users peeking at your account. “We’ve heard from young people in our community that they’re reluctant to block, unfollow, or report their bully because it could escalate the situation, especially if they interact with their bully in real life,” Mosseri wrote.
When you trigger this option, the person you’ve shadow-banned is the only person that can see the comments they’ve put on your posts. Essentially, it puts your attacker in a little safety bubble, where they think the abuse they’re spewing is getting through, but no one else can see it (unless you approve the comment). They also won’t be able to see if you’re online, or if you’ve read their DMs. It may not exactly insulate you from their foul-mouthed ways, but at the very least it discourages other bystanders from piling on.