Artwork by Elena Campos
In kindergarten your teachers taught you to deal with problems with others in a variety of ways. Maybe your teacher made you tattle to the paper doll on the wall or maybe you were constantly reminded to “Think before you speak.” Well, thanks to Instagram’s new anti-bullying policies, you might be able to forget thinking altogether, whether you’re the bully or the bullied. You might even be able to forget kindergarten. Meet Instagram: your new guidance counselor.
Recently, the head of Instagram, Adam Mossari, sat down with teen Instagram users to discuss online bullying on his social media platform. He learned all about how it feels to be on the other side of the screen, as well as some important critiques and flaws regarding some of Instagram’s then-current policies, especially the “block” function.
“Most of it seems to happen between people who know each other in real life … and teenagers are often reluctant to report or block their peers who bully them online … The controls that we had before were insufficient.” he says.
Teens enlightened him to the issue, warning that “blocking a user on social media doesn’t necessarily terminate an online bullying issue and can even worsen the situation. Being bullied as a child himself, Mosseri set out to combat this issue immediately. In early October, Instagram set out to tackle this issue with two new approaches, a policy they call “Restrict” and the use of “comment warnings.”
Instagram’s Restrict has two main features: one that deals with comments and the other that deals with the messaging aspects of the platform. Restrict is a new, more friendly alternative to blocking that “special” online bully. When you restrict a user, Instagram gives the power to approve their comments before they are published on your post. When a restricted user comments, you can either approve of the comment, permitting all of your followers the ability to view that comment, or you can deny the comment, “restricting” all but the bully and yourself from seeing it.
Once a user is “restricted,” messages you receive from a that user also have to be approved, and if you deny them, the typical “read receipt” indicating you have read their comment does not appear. Mrs. Parker, the upper school guidance counselor likes this policy. “I think it gives power to the victim.” she says.
The second policy seems to take more of a kindergarten approach, where Instagram is the teacher and the bully is the kid that won’t stop leaning back in their chair. This approach applies to all users, “restricted” or not. Using artificial intelligence, Instagram can now attempt to identify comments of a mean nature before they are published.
Right as a user is about to publish a comment Instagram has detected as potentially hurtful, a notification appears on their screen. “Are you sure you want to post this?” Instagram asks the bully, simulating that kindergarten teacher from oh-so-many years ago. This gives users time to think before they post something they will regret, whether it’s at that job interview in the future or tomorrow at school. “Impulsivity is a hallmark of being a teenager,” Mrs. Stackpole, the middle school guidance counselor, says. “It’s a great way to try to give yourself a second chance before you stick your foot in your mouth.”
When the St. Mary’s guidance counselors were asked which of Instagram’s new approaches they thought might have the better shot in the fight against online bullying, Mrs. Parker says “Everything you can throw at it, throw at it.” Although, both do have criticisms of the new features.
In the case of the Restrict, Mrs. Stackpole warns “It’s hard to predict human behavior … and with that, if the bully is not getting a response, they could try harder, use different means, different platforms, or texting … but, I guess my problem with that is that the person still sees the mean comment, still sees the mean messages. So, it’s not necessarily that their protected from it, but I do like they have control whether other people see it because that to me gives a little bit of power back to the person’s whose power is being taken away.”
“I think it’s a step in the right direction, but I think it could be improved. I don’t know how exactly. It’s a good first step.” Mrs. Parker adds. “Anything’s worth a try.” “That’s why we’re here too,” they say. “to help you navigate that stuff.”
For & By Students
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