Instagram Uses AI Against Cyber-Bullying

Over-sharing, unsolicited photos of a friend’s new baby, avocado on toast – that’s right, it’s Instagram. The Facebook owned behemoth that allows users to share anything, from anywhere in the world. This single app has allowed thousands of people to make a living, just from posting (mostly) edited photos of themselves online. It’s an amazing piece of technology that connects people across the globe, and with 72% of 13-17 year olds using Instagram, it’s fast becoming the most popular social media amongst youngsters.

But as with any platform that facilitates user-generated content, some of that content is going to be ‘less than kind’. The purely image focussed design of posting, often brings with it judgement and ridicule from strangers and followers alike – not something you want as a brand when a vast majority of your users are under the age of 18. Indirectly facilitating online harassment is never a good look. As we’ve said before, and will continue to reference in posts to come, education is the most valuable tool when it comes to keeping kids safe online. There are numerous resources to draw from, some of which we’ve had a look at previously.

One of the most basic safety features Instagram offers, is making your profile ‘private’. In practice, this means everything posted on a private account, can only be seen by those who follow the account. Other users have to request to follow a private account, making it easy to filter strangers and face-value threats.

However, one of the biggest draws of Instagram is connecting with likeminded people, and finding posts that share similar themes to yours. This process is far easier with a public account, but leaves youngsters vulnerable to attacks from people outside of their own followers list, and peers alike. 12% of school kids have been affected by cyber-bullying, and that’s just those who were brave enough to report it, in reality it’s probably a far higher percentage.

The never-ending debate rages on, as to whether social media platforms are culpable for the content posted on their platform. However, Instagram have recently put in preventative measures to discourage, and potentially dissuade, those who post malicious comments on the platform. Not only that, but it gives more power to those who are being targeted.

Artificial intelligence is being utilised to identify and screen potentially offensive comments before they are posted. Dubbed the ‘Rethink’ tool, a message will pop-up asking the user: “Do you really want to post this?” if the AI identifies the proposed comment as a hurtful one. This preventative method should hopefully curb some of the bullying that school kids experience online, but if a user wants to post something mean, they’re going to post something mean. Unfortunately, no amount of AI prompted messages will stop that.

As previously mentioned, a vast majority of secondary school kids use Instagram as their main source of interaction. This can be a great way of staying connected to classmates, but can also pose a problem if a particular pupil is targeted by some of their peers. The National Bullying Helpline suggests blocking and reporting any profiles that may be guilty of cyberbullying, which is a great step to take if being targeted by a stranger. But a user will often know if they’ve been blocked by a particular account, which can exacerbate the situation, rather than alleviate it, if dealing with a classmate.

Any sort of web-filtering system should leave the user feeling empowered, not like they are choosing the lesser of two evils. This is where Instagram’s ‘Restrict’ tool comes in. It allows targets to essentially block their harasser, without informing them of doing so. That is to say, the bully’s Instagram will appear exactly the same, whilst affording the user the ability to screen any comments or messages their harasser posts. Thus, negating any repercussions from the bully knowing that they have been blocked and reported by their target.

Social media is becoming more embedded as a way of interacting with each other, a fact no truer than for Generation Z. Not every child is going to have parents who sit through Jessie and Friends with them as a youngster, educating them on the impact that their behaviour can have in the digital world. So, it’s vitally important that there are tools readily available for keeping kids safe, and happy, online.