How to Stop a Bully? Instagram Uses Artificial Intelligence to Get Bullies Thinking Before They Post

What to Know

  • Instagram has created a new comment filter, powered by artificial intelligence.
  • The filter detects potentially offensive comments, and then asks the commenter if they are sure they want to post.
  • The company hopes that through reflection, bullies might rethink their comment, creating a more positive online experience.

Instagram has announced a new feature to combat bullying that asks users to think twice.

The filter -- powered by AI -- detects rude comments and notifies the commenter of their comment’s potential offensiveness. If a comment is detected as offensive by the filter, the bot will prompt, “Are you sure you want to post this?."

The offender is then given the chance to undo their comment, without the intended target ever getting a notification. The feature is an attempt to reduce online bullying by giving potential bullies a chance to reflect.

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The new filter is directed towards the app’s youngest and most involved users -- teens. Instagram head Adam Mosseri calls the feature “especially crucial for teens” because teens are “less likely to report online bullying even when they are the ones who experience it the most”. This reluctance to report makes tools that take the onus of dealing with a bully out of the user’s hands a priority for Instagram.

Though Instagram may have created a positive enforcer, if bullies will actually change their behavior is questionable. The company seems confident about the feature’s efficacy. “From early tests of this feature, we have found that it encourages some people to undo their comment and share something less hurtful once they have had a chance to reflect,” Instagram said in its announcement.

Many Instagram users are doubtful. Like many American teenagers, local New Yorker, Sophie Nardi-Bart, 19, witnessed bullying on Instagram during her time in high school. “I really don’t think this new Instagram feature will stop online bullying in any way” says Nardi-Bart. “If someone is determined to be a bully in the first place, a weak online plea for self-reflection isn’t going to change anything”.

Instagram will soon launch another anti-bullying feature, one that allows users to “restrict” another account.

You can restrict a user without them knowing they have been restricted.

Those selected as 'restricted' can still post comments, but their comments are only visible to themselves -- with the restricted user having no idea they have been restricted. If they so choose, the empowered user is still able to approve specific comments, acting as a filter for their own account. The ability to slyly combat a bully makes it easier for users to take action against their intimidator. Instagram hopes the new feature will help users avoid any dreaded real life confrontations.

Time will tell if these new features will encourage positive online behavior. What is clear is that cyberbullying is a difficult task to take on. Mosseri himself acknowledges these features are “only two steps on a longer path”, and that larger changes may need to be made in order to effectively combat bullying on Instagram.

“We are committed to leading the industry in the fight against online bullying, and we are rethinking the whole experience of Instagram to meet that commitment."

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