Everyone Can Now Use Instagram’s Tool That Combats Offensive Language

Once available only to a select few, Instagram’s anti-harassment tool automatically deletes offensive comments.

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Sep 12 2016, 3:38pm

Image: loloieg/Flickr

Kevin Systrom doesn't want Instagram to collapse under the weight of a gaggle of anonymous online trolls.

On Monday, a new tool was added to the photo-sharing app that allows all Instagram users, from big brands to the average Joe, to automatically block offensive comments from appearing in the photos and videos they share. Systrom, Instagram's co-founder and CEO, claimed the development of anti-harassment tools was his responsibility to ensure that the app remains "a positive place to express yourself."

"We know tools aren't the only solution for this complex problem, but together, we can work towards keeping Instagram a safe place for self-expression," he said in a blog post.

Image: Instagram

Actually enabling the anti-harassment filter is as simple as clicking the "gears" icon in your profile, then tapping the "comments" button. Words and phrases commonly associated with harassment will automatically trigger the filter, thus preventing the comment from appearing in your profile. Custom words and phrases can also be added to the filtering tool.

Instagram rolled out a similar tool over the summer, but was at the time limited only to high-profile users. By making the tool available to all users, argued one expert, Instagram is proving that it's not merely paying lip service to the idea of combating harassment on the service.

"This is now a feature that isn't just reserved for high-profile accounts," Jamia Wilson, executive director of Women, Action, and the Media, told Motherboard, adding that she's "glad" to see it. Wilson compared the tool's expanded rollout to a similar move that Twitter recently made, enabling the use of a tweet quality filter for all users. "It's a power, privilege, and access issue," she said.

While Wilson praised Instagram and other technology companies for developing tools to fight harassment, she noted that the problem of online harassment will likely fester until more women and people of color are in positions of power in Silicon Valley, a place with a dismal record in that regard.

"It is very helpful to have diverse perspectives in all levels of the organization, from user experience to safety to decision-making on the board and to people who are moderating," she said. "The people who are being targeted [by online harassment] the most are women and people of color. So even when people come in with the best intentions [to develop anti-harassment initiatives], they don't always understand or really have the same level of experience and engagement with these issues."

In his blog post, Systrom said that the new comments tool isn't intended as the be-all, end-all solution to harassment on the platform, but rather it's the first step toward a more equitable community—a goal, said Wilson, that's worth pursuing, but one that still requires plenty of hard work.

"This is an issue of free speech and free expression," she said, noting that President Obama, at SXSW earlier this year, directly spoke out against online harassment, particularly of women and people of color. "It's something we want to continue to push," she said, "and something we want to see platforms [like Instagram] continue to deepen" their commitment to.

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