Harassment on social media platforms has always been around, but change to stop it has been slow. Very recently, though, Instagram introduced a new comment moderation feature on their platform. In a blog announcement, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom says, “We’re taking the next step to ensure Instagram remains a positive place to express yourself.”
The new feature will let anyone create a list of words that you consider offensive or inappropriate, whether it’s racial slurs like the ones aimed towards Leslie Jones or harsh criticism as the ones aimed towards Gabby Douglas. Then afterwards, comments that feature those words will be hidden from your posts. This feature was “our responsibility as a company,” Systrom added.
Why did Instagram do this?
The people behind Instagram understand that not everyone on social media gets along with each other. This is why it’s important that the photo sharing social network Instagram is trying to promote community. “To empower each individual, we need to promote a culture where everyone feels safe to be themselves without criticism or harassment,” Systrom said.
For example, take singer Justin Bieber. Bieber, who managed to build an audience of 78 million followers on Instagram, was the seventh most followed person on this platform. But after a barrage of hateful, mean comments towards his new girlfriend, Sofia Richie, Justin Bieber chose to delete his Instagram account all together.
Don’t be surprised ― YouTube already does the exact same thing.
Instagram’s new feature of creating a personalized list of words that can’t be used when commenting is not a new idea. What Instagram is doing is something that has already been done by YouTube three years prior. In 2013, YouTube gave individuals on the platform the ability to block inappropriate comments by blacklisting certain words which prevented individuals from commenting anything that used that word. This allowed people to spend less time moderating their comment section and more time creating videos and connecting with fans. It was a feature that promoted community by allowing individuals to block unnecessarily inappropriate and rude comments.
Should Twitter now get on board?
During the recent Rio Olympics, gymnast Gabby Douglas faced a tremendous amount of backlash on Twitter for just about everything: from the look on her face as she watched teammates compete, to people calling her last performance as an Olympic athlete “shaky,” to even criticizing her hair:
As a result, Gabby Douglas was deeply affected by it: “I tried to stay off the internet because there’s just so much negativity,” Douglas said. “Either it was about my hair… or I look depressed… It was hurtful. It was hurtful. It was. It’s been kind of a lot to deal with.” A saddened Douglas apologized if she offended anyone because of her actions.
Gabby Douglas is not alone.
Most recently, “SNL” comedian and “Ghostbusters” star Leslie Jones left Twitter temporarily last month after she also faced a barrage of hateful and racist comments. Milo Yiannopoulos, the tech editor at conservative news site Breitbart who had 338,000 followers at the time, was one of the main instigators of the harassment aimed towards Jones. He tweeted that Jones was “barely literate” and also referred to her as a man. This rallied a horde of his followers to do the same.
The harassment that Leslie Jones faced demonstrated the negative effects of abuse that social media can inflict on someone. Jones went to Twitter to share examples of the racial and misogynistic abuse that she has received.
Although social media was created with the intent of connecting people together, it has very quickly become a medium that excuses people to be rude, vulgar and disrespectful to other people for no good reason.
Twitter’s attempt to enforce its no-hate policy
Leslie Jones then took the opportunity to criticize Twitter for not doing more to stop racist comments from being on the platform, which is something that Twitter has received constant backlash over because of its inability to effectively crack down on trolls and hateful comments.
In their effort to stop hate and abuse on their platform, Twitter suspended the account of right-wing writer Milo.
While many are criticizing the move by Twitter to block Milo, others are saying that in the goal of stopping hate on Twitter, you can’t get mad at where they choose to start. Twitter stepping in and blocking Milo for his comments shows that Twitter is trying to make an effort to control this type of speech on Twitter, but is it appropriate?
The moderating feature could allow for different opinions without spreading hate
Twitter’s term of service specifically prohibits anyone who uses its platform to issue threats of violence or to engage in “hateful conduct.” The problem with this is despite the terms of service saying what isn’t allowed, many people still aren’t able to shut out all of the Milo’s of their life. Another problem is that it’s vague. If Twitter is going to do this, then they need to better define what’s considered hate speech. And they also need to better define what’s allowed and what isn’t. If I call someone who is African American a “gorilla,” but I’ve never said anything that could even closely be considered hate speech before on Twitter, should I get banned for one tweet? And if not, then does that make my harassment okay?
Instagram’s new feature of letting individuals create a personalized list of ban words gets rid of this problem. Blocking people isn’t a solution and there’s no possible way that you will be able to block or mute every individual who doesn’t follow the terms of service. This doesn’t prevent it. Twitter blocks people only after they say something that they define as hate speech, while Instagram’s new comment moderation feature will block it before they say it. This creates a healthy balance where the Milo’s of the world are still allowed to share their opinions towards Leslie Jones, but in a way that’s not hateful.
Whatever your opinion on this matter may be, whether you think Gabby Douglas, Leslie Jones and Justin Bieber are just being thin-skinned or not, the incidents shine light on a huge ongoing problem that social networks have had for years. Instagram is responding as they should’ve and is doing what Twitter should have done a long time ago. So good job, Instagram, for making the change. Now it’s your turn Twitter to also get on board with this.
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