Instagram’s approach to fighting abuse: let users handle it

Hide the hate.
Hide the hate.
Image: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

In July, Taylor Swift’s Instagram account was bombarded with commenters calling her a liar, and leaving rat and snake emojis as a result of her feud with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. However, the barrage of negative comments were swept away by Instagram almost immediately. Swift’s special treatment revealed a gaping hole: the platform has real-time filtering technology, but not everyone is privileged enough to take advantage of it.

Countless real, non-famous women and men have experienced daily harassment on Instagram with no one coming to their rescue. But that’s about to change. And unlike its parent company Facebook, which has received flak for taking down content on its own accord, Instagram will give users the reins to filter out content.

Toggle hate off.
Toggle hate off.
Image: Instagram

A new tool,”keyword moderation,” allows users to designate a list of words and emoji as offensive or inappropriate in order to hide them from public view, the company announced in a blog post today (Sept. 12). Its 500 million users can choose to use default words provided by the app by toggling the “Hide Inappropriate Comments” on or they can customize the list to include thousands of words. The company already lets users delete comments on their posts, and report inappropriate comments. Accounts violating the app’s policies are blocked.

Some celebrities with high volume comment threads got access to the feature before its universal release. For instance, model Chrissy Teigen took to Twitter to show how she used the new feature to thwart trolls on her pages. She chose to block custom keywords, including several insults, and “Trump.”

Last month, Twitter made an anti-abuse filter available to the public that blocks repetitive bot-generated content, but it stopped short of saying the tool was designed to combat harassment, and some users complained that the site yet again neglected to deal directly with the problem. By contrast, Instagram explicitly touts its tool as a pushback on hate.

“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,” CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom wrote in the blog post. “We know tools aren’t the only solution for this complex problem, but together, we can work towards keeping Instagram a safe place for self-expression.”

Instagram is also updating the way it displays comments to algorithmically rank and show the most relevant comments first, as opposed to the two most recent.