Instagram wants to tackle “bullying” by “stopping harassment before it even starts”

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Facebook has announced that it is testing a number of ways to combat what it sees as bullying on its photo-sharing platform Instagram.

The announcement came from the under-fire social media giant's developer conference, F8.

A somewhat Orwellian-sounding concept, namely, “stopping harassment before it even starts,” is among the measures now being tested, Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri has revealed.

But short of tapping into the thought processes of users – perhaps by means of one of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's future “mind-reading machines” – how would that even work?

Judging by the announcement, “the platform would notice” that its user is “about to leave a negative comment” – warn them about the error of their ways, and encourage them to reconsider. The feature seems correctional in nature, as the comments won't be blocked.

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This doesn't go into how “the platform” would be able to make this judgment call, place content it in a proper context, and recognize it as bullying – or how the feature would be implemented on the technical side. However, it seems likely to be drawing on Facebook's long-standing practice of sending even unpublished status updates to its servers, where data is picked through for items of interest to the company.

And while it's a given that the last thing social platforms need is more – or indeed, any – harassing, the process Instagram is testing is likely to prove imperfect enough to provide ample opportunity for abuse, accidental or otherwise, in the form of censorship of legitimate speech.

Other features framed as having users' safety and well-being in mind look suspiciously geared toward maintaining their presence and engagement on the platform even when it's no longer particularly enjoyable. Thus, users may be given the option of blocking another from leaving comments on their posts – but allow them to see the posts anyway, and in other ways “specify what they want to limit from this person, down to how much they're allowed to interact with them.”

Then there's the “Hotel California” option – or as Instagram put it, “an away mode.” It's designed to encourage users to check out of their account temporarily in case real life, such as breakups, gets in the way – rather than actually leave by deleting their account.

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Didi Rankovic

Didi Rankovich is an experienced online journalist, editor, and translator, with a career spanning over ten years writing for major a English-language website in Serbia, and previously working as translator for international organizations and peacekeepers in the Balkans. Rankovich is passionate about free and open source tech and is a head contributor for Reclaim The Net, focusing on lead stories. [email protected]