In Depth

How Instagram plans to put an end to cyber bullying

New privacy tools will challenge users over abusive comments

Instagram has announced a range of new anti-bullying tools in a bid to discourage abusive behaviour on the platform. 

The new features, announced on Monday, will attempt to identify potentially hurtful comments and ask users if they're sure they want to post them. People on the receiving end of abuse will be able to “secretly block” users who are causing them distress, Sky News says.

Adam Mosseri, head of the Facebook-owned image-sharing site, said the changes will give users “a chance to reflect” on negative comments, while allowing others to restrict what they see from bullies “without notifying” them. 

But he admits that the platform “can do more” to curb cyber abuse and “empower the targets of bullying to stand up for themselves.”

The changes come in the wake of the Government’s Online Harms white paper, which proposed the creation of “an independent regulator” that would guide tech firms over how to deal with “all manner of abuse, including bullying”, the BBC reports.

The policy proposal followed comments from the father of 14-year-old Molly Russell, who claimed that “distressing content” posted on the platform “were partly responsible” for her suicide in 2017.

What are the new features? 

There are two new tools that aim to curb cyber bulling. The notification system is available from today, while the private blocking tool will appear in the next few months.

The notification system uses artificial intelligence to study the content of a comment before it has been sent, The Independent reports. If the AI system recognises words deemed to be offensive or inappropriate, such as “you are so ugly”, Instagram will notifying the commenter by saying: “Are you sure you want to post this? Learn more.”

Tapping the “learn more” button sends another notice, which reads: “We are asking people to rethink comments that seem similar to others that have been reported”, the new site adds. 

Mosseri claims that the company noticed during the feature’s testing phase that it encouraged “some people to undo their comment and share something less hurtful once they have had a chance to reflect.”

The next feature essentially lets users “shadow ban” certain accounts, says The Verge, preventing abusive comments from appearing on a victim’s page. The tool also hides the victim’s online status and read-message notifications from bully accounts. 

Shadow-banning is done is secret, so abusive users are not notified when they have been blocked by their victims.

“We wanted to create a feature that allows people to control their Instagram experience, without notifying someone who may be targeting them”, said Mosseri. 

So what’s been the response?

The new tools have been praised by anti-bullying campaigners, who praise Instagram for tackling online abuse. 

Alex Holmes, head of anti-bullying at the Diana Award charity, told the BBC that “it’s really encouraging to see that the new feature has been rolled out.”

However, he argues that social media sites “should be able to make the issue of safety more appealing, more engaging.”

“If you are under 18, you should have to go through awareness building when you sign up”, he suggests. “I think it would be a pretty simple thing, for the first five minutes, to go through.”

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