Instagram is endeavouring to become the ‘kindest’ place on the internet.
Instagram launched in 2010 and was bought by Facebook two years ago. There are over 700 million people on the platform making it the third most popular social media app in the world after Facebook and YouTube.
Instagram has become a place of self-expression for their users. Due to this, Instagram wants to ensure that it is a safe environment for their users. Unfortunately, the internet can be a very negative place. Instagram has developed two phases which they feel will eliminate the internet trolls and make the platform a place where people are comfortable to express themselves. Phase 1 has already been enforced by filtering out hateful comments. Phase 2, which will come later this summer, will work towards elevating the positive comments.
Nicholas Thompson, the editor in chief of Wired, asked Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom if he ever worries about having too much power. “You are kind of writing a constitution for the world in which 700 million people live.” But Systrom disagreed: “We can improve the lives of many young people in the world who live on social media.”
But is this taking away the freedom of speech? Instagram is hoping that limiting the hateful speech will encourage people to be more expressive on the platform. As Systrom argued, “Is it free speech just to be mean to someone?”
Like Facebook and YouTube, Instagram does offer the option to turn off comments completely but if a user were to do this they wouldn’t be able to see any of the comments, including the nice ones. Instagram’s new feature blocks the hateful comments from appearing in the first place. However, the comment will still appear on the timeline of the person who posted it, meaning they won’t know that it was filtered out and blocked.
Systrom is confident that this won’t make Instagram a rosy place as that is not what they intend for. He said that he just doesn’t want Instagram to be a hateful place.
How the Filter Works
Machine learning powers the new feature. The machine learning technology enables computers to spot trends in language by teaching the programme how to decide if comments are mean or not. They do this by feeding the machine thousands of comments and then rating how mean they are.
Is Instagram as Selfless as They Are Making Out?
Douglas Rushkoff, a writer, public speaker and critic who focuses on the power of social media companies talks about what this means for the business element of Instagram.
“The problem with free speech for these companies is it makes them less commercial spaces. Of course, they are going to start limiting what can be said.”
Having a positive platform where people are more expressive and are posting and interacting more will attract companies to the platform.
Will This Help to Stop Cyber-bullying?
In a recent study by the Royal Society for Public Health in the U.K., it was argued that Instagram was the most detrimental social networking app for young people’s mental health.
Systrom says that Instagram is aware that bad experiences happen on the network but this is what they want to minimise. They want to make it a safe space for their users to express themselves.
“Imagine you’re someone who’s trying to express yourself about depression or anxiety or body image issues, and you get that [negative comment]. Does that make you want to come back and post on the platform? Certainly not. And if you’re seeing that, does it make you want to be open about those issues as well? No.”
Is Instagram Afraid to Fail?
“What if actually people get turned off by Instagram and they say Instagram is becoming like Disneyland… and they share less?” Thompson asks.
“When you fail at least you’re trying,” Systrom replies. “Maybe trying sends a signal to other companies that this is a priority and starts a national and international conversation. … I think that will be a success.”