Facebook-owned Instagram is launching a new Artificial Intelligence (AI) feature that will notify users when a comment they write could be considered offensive before they post it. It is also about to test a new feature called Restrict that will allow users to hide comments from specific users without notifying those users that they are being blocked.

By Ian Horswill


Posted on July 9, 2019

Instagram’s announced a crackdown on bullying under new CEO Adam Mosseri has begun.

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is to launch a new Artificial Intelligence (AI) feature that will notify users when a comment they write could be considered offensive before they post it.

The app is also about to test a new feature called Restrict that will allow users to hide comments from specific users without notifying those users that they are being blocked.

Both initiatives by Instagram against bullying appear to try and limit bad behaviour without outright blocking posts or banning users.

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“Online bullying is a complex issue. For years now, we have used artificial intelligence to detect bullying and other types of harmful content in comments, photos and videos. As our community grows, so does our investment in technology. This is especially crucial for teens since they are less likely to report online bullying even when they are the ones who experience it the most,” Instagram said in a statement.

“In the last few days, we started rolling out a new feature powered by AI that notifies people when their comment may be considered offensive before it’s posted. This intervention gives people a chance to reflect and undo their comment and prevents the recipient from receiving the harmful comment notification. From early tests of this feature, we have found that it encourages some people to undo their comment and share something less hurtful once they have had a chance to reflect.

The new Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri promised to get tough on anti-social posts.  Photo: Facebook
Instagram’s new CEO Adam Mosseri has announced two new initiatives to try and stop bullying. Photo: Facebook

“While identifying and removing bullying on Instagram is important, we also need to empower our community to stand up to this kind of behaviour. We’ve heard from young people in our community that they’re reluctant to block, unfollow, or report their bully because it could escalate the situation, especially if they interact with their bully in real life. Some of these actions also make it difficult for a target to keep track of their bully’s behaviour.

“We wanted to create a feature that allows people to control their Instagram experience, without notifying someone who may be targeting them. Soon, we will begin testing a new way to protect your account from unwanted interactions called Restrict. Once you Restrict someone, comments on your posts from that person will only be visible to that person. You can choose to make a restricted person’s comments visible to others by approving their comments. Restricted people won’t be able to see when you’re active on Instagram or when you’ve read their direct messages.”

The Restrict initiative planned by Instagram that will let you stop seeing posts from a bully. Photo: Instagram
The Restrict initiative planned by Instagram will mean users stop seeing insulting, shameful and demeaning posts from a bully. Photo: Instagram

Mosseri took over Instagram after its founders abruptly departed late last year. The 36-year-old Mosseri, a longtime Facebook employee took over, having honed his crisis management skills by overseeing Facebook’s News Feed. This has heralded a new era for Instagram, calling the well-being of users his top priority.

But it’s a fight not without risk.

If Instagram is perceived as clamping down too hard on users over its bullying stance it risks turning away users who feel it is too intrusive. Equally if it does not do enough to stop the bad behaviour, especially after heralding its anti-bullying stance, it risk being accused of putting profits over the welfare and safety of its users, mainly young people, Time reported.

“I do worry that if we’re not careful, we might overstep,” Mosseri told Time.

“We will make decisions that mean people use Instagram less,” he said, “if it keeps people more safe.”

“It could hurt our reputation and our brand over time. It could make our partnership relationships more difficult. There are all sorts of ways it could strain us,” Mosseri says. “If you’re not addressing issues on your platform, I have to believe it’s going to come around and have a real cost,” Mosseri told Time.

Instagram was launched in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. Within a year, more than 500,000 people were signing up each week. By the time they left, the platform had more than one billion users.

Meanwhile, in France, the government has passed a draft bill that would require social media companies, including Facebook and Twitter, to remove any hateful content within 24 hours. French President Emmanuel Macron wants to make France a leader in regulating US tech giants and containing the spread of illicit content and false information on the most-used platforms.

“What is not tolerated on the street should not be tolerated on the internet,” said Laetitia Avia, a member of Macron’s majority at the National Assembly and author of a recent report on hate speech told reporters before the vote.

Facebook has come under intense scrutiny over hate speech, especially after a gunman killed 51 people in New Zealand in March and streamed the attack live.