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Instagram lets users censor comments they don’t like; our take

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Facebook owned Instagram has launched a “keyword moderation tool” which will let its users hide comments containing words they have blacklisted as such. Instagram says that its other features like deleting comments, reporting inappropriate comments and blocking accounts are already in place. At last count, Instagram claimed to have 500 million monthly active users.

Ironically enough, the company is aware that is user base is diverse, “but sometimes the comments on their posts can be unkind… To empower each individual, we need to promote a culture where everyone feels safe to be themselves without criticism or harassment.”

Facebook’s algorithmic failures

Instagram’s problem is not unique. It faces the same issues as any other platform including its parent Facebook which recently could not decipher the difference between a ‘historically important’ image of a naked child fleeing a napalm attack and its community standards which do not allow posting images of nude children. The image, along with the post, was reinstated after much criticism. Espen Egil Hansen, the editor-in-chief and CEO of Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten was, then, right about calling Mark Zuckerberg the most powerful editor in the world. Albeit without having any editorial background whatsoever. This is also a good time to differentiate between a user generated content platform and the media, although the line is diminishing fast. Look at Facebook’s content policies here.

Facebook has also been accused of downgrading conservative news in its Trending Topics module, something Facebook has denied, but also shut down its Trending Topics editorial team. The more Facebook automates its content (more here and here), the more issues there are likely to crop up. If there was ever a time to discuss the limitations of algorithm driven image and text (and context) detection, now would be a good time to do it. Alternatively, also read ‘We are data’ to understand data ownership in the digital information explosion age.

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MediaNama’s take: Online harassment is a real and unfortunate byproduct of having an internet connected world. Some people might even laud Instagram for not being overreaching and censoring so called offensive content itself, instead letting its users decide what they want and not want to see. However, surely, a tech driven company could employ basic measures in place instead of asking its users to do its job for itself, notwithstanding the fact that one man’s meat is another man’s poison? These are a platform’s responsibilities. Instagram goes as far as to say that “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.” Safe place? Ouch (NSFW obviously).

Twitter’s struggle with online abuse:

In July this year, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted that Twitter was still finding ways of dealing with online abuse, adding that, “Freedom of expression means little if we allow voices to be silenced because of fear of harassment if they speak up.”

Policy changes of platforms:
– In February last year, Twitter announced improvements to its harassment-reporting process which included impersonation, self-harm and the sharing of private and confidential information. In March 2015, Twitter updated its privacy policy to take down non-consensual nude photos and non-consensual videos of sexual acts. In the same month, it made it easier for users to report threatening tweets which could need attention from law enforcement.
– This move followed the changes to policies from Google which said that users would not be able to “publicly share images and video that are sexually explicit or show graphic nudity” on its blogging platform Blogger.
– Reddit also made changes to its privacy policy to prohibit the posting of nude photos or videos of people (engaging in sexual acts) without their prior consent to post them.

Also read:
Twitter has taken down 235,000 accounts which promote terrorism
Microsoft updates content policy to block promotion of terrorism
On Maneka Gandhi saying that online trolling of women will be treated as violence
Instagram blocks links to Telegram and Snapchat

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Written By

I'm a MediaNama alumna from 2015-16 (remember TinyOwl?) now back to cover e-services like food and grocery delivery, app based transport and policies, platforms and media in India.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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