For too long, social media users have been subject to online harassment at the hands of others. Generally, users who have experienced the hate on their accounts report the offensive comments to the company, but either due to lack of resources or some other unknown roadblock, social media sites are rarely much help. However, the power is finally returning to users with the recent news that Instagram introduced a commenting moderator tool.
After the release of the female-led Ghostbusters in July, actress and comedian Leslie Jones' Twitter was flooded with harassment, and a month later, her website was hacked and nude photos were posted to her account. Even for a public figure, that is a rough thing to handle. Though many social media sites allow users to block others, this usually doesn't happen until after the user has received the abuse. Preemptive filtering and blocking is a tool that will allow users to avoid a greater amount of needless abuse from the start. With a touching note, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom announced the rollout on his blog on Sept. 12, explaining:
The beauty of the Instagram community is the diversity of its members. All different types of people — from diverse backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientations, abilities and more — call Instagram home, but sometimes the comments on their posts can be unkind. To empower each individual, we need to promote a culture where everyone feels safe to be themselves without criticism or harassment.
There are two different ways to use the new feature. In the settings under comments, users are able to turn on a setting to hide inappropriate comments. This takes a list of words determined by Instagram as often-reported words and phrases and automatically filters them out of your comments. Another option in the new tool is to manually create a list of words to filter out, tailored to your specific experiences. This is probably the most useful option if you receive harassment on particular posts or notice a pattern.
At the end of his blog post, Systrom added, "We know tools aren't the only solution to this complex problem, but together, we can work towards keeping Instagram a safe place for self-expression." To hear a CEO admit that harassment is an issue on social media and commit to working to alleviate it as much as possible for users is reassuring and a great indication of what is to come.
This will benefit people not in the public eye, but also celebrities who combat harassment as they interact with their fans on their accounts often. One such celeb, Lena Dunham, showed her support of the tool on her Instagram Tuesday, writing, "Social media communities should engender a dialogue, not become tools for verbal abuse."
This feature is a great step in the right direction for social media across the internet. If companies can't provide the manpower or time to protect users, the least they can do is give users the tools to do it themselves. Instagram has stepped up to the plate with this addition, and hopefully other platforms will follow.