Instagram's Anti-Bully Features May Not Be Enough, Says Expert

It's a start, but only that

Key Takeaways

  • An update to Instagram’s commenting system will now include more warnings for users attempting to post potentially offensive comments.
  • Comments that match previously reported negative comments will automatically be hidden from view.
  • One expert says the changes are a good step forward in the fight against bullying, but ultimately Instagram needs to take more action.
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Instagram’s latest update has introduced new anti-bullying features. These will help filter out negative comments by warning users and even hiding comments that break the community guidelines, but the company could do more.

The update comes as part of Instagram’s ten-year birthday celebration, which also includes classic icons and a new Stories Archive. The most important change, though, are the new features dedicated to fighting online bullies, which include expanded comment warnings and a system to completely hide comments considered offensive. While a step in the right direction, the new features continue to fall short of the actions Instagram needs to take, according to one expert.

"I think Instagram is taking a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough," Makaila Nichols, best-selling author of Blatantly Honest: Normal Teen, Abnormal Life, said in an email interview. "It’s so simple for a bully to make a multitude of fake accounts, but what’s to stop them from doing that if they lose their account the first time?"

Nudging Users in the Right Direction

One of the new changes to how Instagram handles online harassment is an addition to a feature that originally launched in October of last year. It’s an early warning system that appears when users create comments that could be offensive. After the release of the ten-year birthday update, the system will now pop up a new screen warning users that the contents of the comment are similar to others that have been reported. 

"While this feature is nice, it still allows too much room for the bad to get through," said Nichols.

Thankfully, Instagram is taking a bit more action this time around by introducing a system that automatically hides comments that are similar to ones that have been reported in the past. The comments can still be viewed and even allowed, if you see fit, but without any additional user action, they will remain hidden from view.

While it might not be exactly what Nichols meant, it may at least put the company on the right track to helping lessen the amount of negativity out there.

A Long Way to Go

Since the rise of social media, online persecution and harassment has only grown worse through the years, giving users an anonymous way to attack the self esteem and feelings of their fellow human beings. These new updates, while modest, are still a step forward in the fight to end bullying completely.

"I am thankful that Instagram is taking cyber bullying seriously, but this is only skimming the surface," Nichols replied when asked about Instagram’s latest anti-bullying features.

Many social media websites enable toxic behavior despite having systems in place to help fight against it. With so many loopholes—like making new accounts when they get banned—available for bullies, companies like Instagram have a long way to go if they wish to wipe out toxic behavior in their applications completely.

"Even if the comments are not posted to your direct photos, they are to someone else."

Of course, Instagram is well aware of the problems on its platform; Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, said so in the birthday announcement.

"Our community will remain the heart of Instagram," he said, "and we’ll stay focused on keeping people safe and building new features that fight bullying, improve equity, address fairness, and help people feel supported."

Do Your Part

Until we see entire teams dedicated to fighting online harassment, though, there’s always going to be some level of bullying out there. That’s why it’s also important that users do their part to help. You can do so by reporting toxic comments and accounts that are being bullies. What you shouldn’t do, though, is engage with any of the people making negative comments that break the community guidelines.

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"Do not be a bystander," Nichols wrote in our email interview. "Even if the comment are not posted to your direct photos, they are to someone else. Please report any negative comments that you see, as it is up to all of us to make Instagram a safer place to share our experience with the world."

Instagram’s updated features offer new ways to fight online negativity. The nudges give users clear warnings, and the ability to automatically hide troublesome comments will no doubt be welcomed by many users. Instagram has promised its fight is far from over, and it will continue to improve and add new ways to combat harassment and other forms of online toxicity. You can also do your part by reporting bad comments and even blocking users that give you problems.