Bullying on social media has been a growing hot topic for the last couple of years. With news stories surfacing of teens committing suicide because of online bullying, the platforms themselves are starting to take steps to protect their users from potentially damaging language that can be spewed online. Instagram has unrolled two features in pilot programs that will hopefully hinder bullying and keep the social media platform’s users safe.
Bullying on Social Media
Reports show that 43 percent of teens have experienced cyberbullying, and as many as 70 percent of teens have seen bullying online. These are huge stats. All too often bullying is taking place in the form of:
- body shaming
While intended to be a way to connect with friends and family, share photos, or life events, teens have found a way to use these sites to harass and bully others. Whether it’s someone they know or just a “troll,” teens can make hurtful and emotionally scarring comments. In Facebook, they can also use private groups chats to gang up on one another. On Snapchat, depending on the user’s settings, messages and pictures can be sent and then disappear within a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, the cyberbullying has already been done by the time the bullying victim gets wind of it. The tragic fact is more than 4,400 teens have reportedly committed suicide due to ongoing cyber bullying on social media.
Instagram is Taking a Stand Against Bullying
Instagram has realized the role of social media and how bullying can affect user interaction. They also understand the dangers of bullying. After working with their design teams, they have launched two new features in July 2019 that will hopefully reduce the amount of hurtful and hateful comments posted and viewed on the site.
One feature utilizes artificial intelligence to notify the person posting if their comments may be offensive and gives them the opportunity to “think before sending”. The feature screens for certain words and word sequences and flags the comment with an in-app pop-up notification. This pop-up asks: “Are you sure you want to post this?”
While simple in content, the idea is to make users stop and think about what they are doing before posting the harmful content.
Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, said in a post, "this intervention gives people a chance to reflect and undo their comment and prevents the recipient from receiving the harmful comment notification."
Feedback from the initial launch noted that a small population of people deleted their comments and did not post them. Although the impact has not been significant, we give Instagram props for adding this feature in an attempt to combat bullying.
The second feature launched by Instagram is called “Restrict.” Similar to “blocking” in the Facebook app, Restrict allows a user who is feeling attacked or does not like what one of their Instagram followers is saying to limit what is visible on their posts. It doesn’t block the user from commenting but subtly limits what can be seen when they post to a restricted account.
Some may ask, why not just unfollow or block person X? The answer is simple: sometimes there are real-life consequences to blocking someone on social media. The bullying may actually amplify offline in real-life situations if a bully is cut off and angered by your actions to take back control.
For example, let’s say you post a selfie on Instagram, and person X starts saying hateful things. You can use the Restrict Feature to limit how the hateful comments are handled in the Instagram app. What person X posts will only be seen by person X and no one else will see it.
The Restrict Feature also prevents the restricted party from seeing if you are active online or if you read their direct messages. If they are filling your inbox with hateful language, they will never know if you ever read it or not.
What are Other Apps Doing to Combat Bullying?
For now, the only recourse you have in other social media apps against internet bullying is to unfriend, block, or unfollow a mean-spirited person. However, the experts still agree that blocking or unfollowing someone who is cyberbullying online is one of the best safeguards for your anxiety, depression, happiness and overall mental health.
Other tools include:
- Remove yourself from public searches via the settings in each app
- Keep personal details private
- Change your privacy settings
- Save harassing texts, messages, and emails
- Report the offense
- Talk to someone you can trust about the offense
- Take a break from social media or your phone
- Don’t feed the trolls (don’t respond to the offender)
- Report threats to the police
If you are a victim of cyber bullying, notify someone of the incident, and keep records of it. Know that a bully’s main goal is to irritate you (also called gas lighting). Don’t give them that much power. At the end of the day, know that you are important and valuable. Don’t let others get in your head and tell you otherwise.
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