Instagram adds new features to protect high profile accounts from abuse

Instagram is introducing two new anti-bullying features to its platform designed to support accounts with large followings, such as professional sportspeople, who have received abuse in their direct message (DM) requests inbox from people they are not connected with.

The social media platform has worked with leading sports anti-discrimination and anti-bullying organisations, including Kick It Out, in the development of the new DM Controls, which will filter our abusive messages from the inbox based on a predefined list of offensive terms.

The list can also be customised as per the user’s preference. All DM requests that contain the offensive words, phrases, or emojis will be automatically filtered into a separate hidden requests folder. If a user chooses to open the folder, the message text will be covered, unless it is tapped to uncover it. Users then have the option to accept the message request, delete it, or report it.

The message filters can be turned on and off in a dedicated tab of the Privacy Settings labelled ‘Hidden Words’.

In addition, a new blocking feature will be rolling out which will give users the option to not only block an account but also all new accounts that person my create.

The feature reinforces Instagram’s harassment policies which prohibits people from repeatedly contacting someone who doesn’t want to hear from them.

Will Easton

“Nobody should have to experience abusive content on Instagram. These new features are a positive step towards combating bullying and online abuse. We are grateful for the valuable input from sports leagues, anti-discrimination organisations, and public figures in developing these tools. At Instagram, people’s safety and wellbeing are our top priorities, and we’ll continue to evolve our policies and develop technology to protect our community,” said Facebook Australia’s managing director, Will Easton.

The new features have the support of the AFL after the league encountered several incidents of abuse directed towards players involved in match-winning incidents.

In August last year, GWS midfielder Callan Ward revealed he’d been on the receiving end of death threats on Instagram after winning a controversial free kick late in his team’s win over Essendon.

Brisbane Lions footballer, Mitch Robinson, later connected incidents of online abuse directed towards players with the gambling industry publishing a tweet declaring: “Not one AFL player gives a flying f*** how we cost you a $100 multi, it’s $5 bet you idiot. If you’re struggling with that amount please don’t punt in the first place. Death threats & ‘hope you do your ACL next game’ I dare say we won’t pay you out either.”

In March this year, betting agencies banned a man who had abused and threatened the NRL Sydney Roosters’ player Josh Morris through direct message on Instagram after the team triumphed over the Wests Tigers 40-6.

Morris had posted a screenshot of the perpetrator’s message on his own Instagram account, including the users name and the accompanying message “We don’t care about your multis”.

“We have been working with Facebook Australia over the past year on the importance of protecting our players from abuse and harassment on Facebook and Instagram. With the announcement today, we feel like they’ve listened and taken a valuable step in the right direction,” said the AFL’s executive general manager of inclusion and social policy, Tanya Hosch.

“These new tools will make a significant difference in protecting our players and ensuring that their experience on Instagram is a positive one, whether that’s connecting with their fans or sharing the great things about the sport. This is also a valuable update in supporting the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, and any other person who faces discrimination and hate speech, to have a safer and more positive experience online. There is more work to be done, and we will continue to support Facebook and Instagram in developing more safeguards for the Australian community.”

The tools will become available to any user that has a large following, including influencers and celebrities.

The roll out of these latest measures come after Instagram revealed in February that it had been working to identify and eliminate incidents of hate speech across the platform before they can even be reported by users.

Addressing and preventing cyber-bullying has been a key issue for Instagram to address. In July 2019, the platform released two new functions to prevent bullying and harassment. Restrict was released as an alternative to blocking, enabling users to stop receiving comments from people without notifying them which in-turn prevents retaliation from the potential bully.

Comment Warning used AI to identify comments that be considered offensive before they had been posted, giving users a chance to rethink their comment. This function was later expanded to operate on image captions so that potentially offensive captions on image and video uploads triggered a warning from Instagram.


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