9 July 2019

New Instagram tool to combat cyber bullying and online abuse

Image from Instagram

As the saying goes, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” but this advice doesn’t seem to apply online.

In January Ofcom published a report warning that online bullying is on the rise. Cyberbullying has taken a much-needed higher profile in recent years. Yet, trolling and unsavoury comments are part and parcel of each social network.

It is fantastic, therefore, to see that Instagram have today announced a new anti-bullying feature, in an attempt to limit abuse on the platform.

I wonder if the issue is that people are one step removed from face-to-face communication. Perhaps, because these ‘trolls’ can’t see the person and their reaction they’re more comfortable typing something that they’d never say in real life. That said, it is certainly no excuse. Instagram’s new feature gives a wake-up call to posts. It shows a notice asking if you ‘are sure you want to post this’. There is also an opportunity to ‘learn more’. The further information then reads: “We are asking people to rethink comments that seem similar to others that have been reported.”

The message can be ignored but it does provide the opportunity for a reality check; that there are real people behind the Instagram posts.

The wellbeing of social media users

A second tool has also been announced, called Restrict. The tool filters abusive comments without needing to block, unfollow or report people. The current methods could easily exacerbate a situation with school bullies for example. Only the restricted person will see their comments, and crucially will not be notified that they have been restricted.

The tools come following the government’s Online Harms whitepaper which was published in April. The report suggested a need for an independent regulator to lead how firms should manage abuse and bullying online.

I would hope the announcement from Instagram today is the first in a long line of new technologies coming into play to help tackle the problems of negative behaviour online.

Social media platforms have the potential to be hugely positive, however there is a spiralling problem of toxic behaviour that has been left to grow out of control. A few words flippantly typed and posted can and are having a hugely negative effect on people.

Ultimately, it would be impossible for human beings to check through every single comment or post shared online. AI and machine learning are essential parts of this process.

However the social networks plan to tackle the problem, these two new tools are certainly a step in the right direction for the wellbeing of social media users.

What do you think? Should more be done to tackle bad behaviour online? What’s the answer? Let me know in the comments below.

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