Instagram launches new tools to address racism & hate speech

Instagram today launched new tools in its ongoing work to support athletes and public figures combat racism/hate speech across its community.

The company has launched ‘Limits’, the new function for users of the platform to limit comments and direct message (DM) requests during spikes of increased attention, stronger warnings when people try to post potentially offensive comments, and the global rollout of Instagram’s ‘Hidden Words’ feature, which allows people to filter abusive Direct Messages (DM).

Instagram said it has a responsibility to make sure everyone feels safe when they come to its platform.

Instagram restated it does not allow hate speech or bullying on Instagram, and that the app looks to remove it when it occurs. Instagram also said it wants to protect users from having to experience this abuse in the first place, which is why the company is constantly listening to feedback from experts and the community, and developing new features to give users more control.

Instagram’s research shows that a lot of negativity towards public figures comes from accounts which don’t actually follow, or who have only recently followed, and simply pile on in the moment. The new ‘Limits’,  function will automatically hide comments and DM requests from accounts which don’t normally follow the account, or who only recently followed an account.

Instagram developed this feature because it heard that creators and public figures sometimes
experience sudden spikes of comments and DM requests from people they don’t know during a significant event.

In many cases this is an outpouring of support — such as if they go viral after winning an Olympic medal. But sometimes it can also mean an influx of unwanted comments or messages.

Instagram saw this after the recent Euro 2020 final, which resulted in a significant – and
unacceptable – spike in racist abuse towards players. Creators also told Instagram they don’t want to switch off comments and messages completely, they still want to hear from their community and build those relationships.

Instagram already shows a user a warning when someone tries to post a potentially offensive comment. And if they try to post potentially offensive comments multiple times, Instagram shows an even stronger warning – reminding them of its ‘Community Guidelines’ and warning them that it may remove or hide their comment if they proceed.

Now, rather than waiting for the second or third comment, Instagram said it will show this stronger message the first time.

Instagram explained how it will combat abuse in DMs and comments by launching ‘Hidden Words’, which allows users to automatically filter offensive words, phrases and emojis into a ‘Hidden Folder’, that users never have to open if they don’t want to.

It also filters DM requests that are likely to be ‘spammy’ or low-quality. Instagram launched this feature in a handful of countries earlier this year, and it will be available for everyone globally by the end of this month.

Additionally, Instagram expanded the list of potentially offensive words, hashtags and emojis that it automatically filters out of comments, and will continue updating it frequently.

Instagram, also recently added a new opt-in option to ‘Hide More Comments’ that may be potentially harmful, even if they may not break its rules.

Instagram added that there’s more to do, including improving its systems to find and remove abusive content more quickly, and holding those who post it accountable.

However, the company said it will continue to invest in organisations focused on racial justice and equity, and look forward to further partnership with industry, governments and NGOs to educate and help root out hate. This work remains unfinished, but said will continue to share updates on its progress.

Head of policy for Facebook Australia, Mia Garlick, said: “Whether you’re an athlete, a creator, or a high school student—we have a responsibility to make sure everyone feels safe when they come to Instagram. The new features Instagram is launching today are the next step in our ongoing work to combat racism and hate speech across our platform.

“We’re committed to continuing this work with experts, sports leagues, governments and safety partners to root out hate both online and offline, but we hope these new features will better protect everyone in our community from seeing abusive content in the first place.”

Tanya Hosch, executive general manager, inclusion and social policy, AFL Australia, said: “With these new features, we believe Facebook is taking some further steps to combat racism and abuse for our players, and for the Australian community more broadly. It’s encouraging to see they are listening to sports leagues including the AFL, and our partnership is shaping a more positive Instagram experience for everyone.

“This is an especially important step forward in the protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, and other players of colour, and women in our code who endure a disproportionate amount of abuse in online and offline spaces. There is more work to be done, and we’ll continue working with Facebook in their commitment to make their platforms safe for everyone.”


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