During their April F8 conference, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri committed to cracking down on cyberbullying within the platform. The company have delivered and recently introduced the Restrict feature. Classic guidance on dealing with bullies has always been that if you ignore bullies, they will quickly lose interest. This new restriction tool allows users to inhibit contact from selected accounts. Comments from restricted accounts will not be visible to the recipient or other users, only the commenter. This measure was launched after countless reports from teenage users that straight up blocking a bully on Instagram can in fact exacerbate the situation and lead to face to face repercussions. The Restrict option allows for a quiet removal of the bully and an effective way to combat abuse on the platform.
Cyberbullying has always been an issue on social media and with over 1 billion users, Instagram a perfect environment for online abuse. Current research into offline bullying is not relevant in a cyber field, due to the vast differences in context, access and prevention. Victims can experience increased numbers of “interactions” with the bully, large number of online witnesses and the fact that the bullying is essentially in your pocket. The Online Disinhibition Effect put forward by Suler in 2004, highlighted the fact that people were far more likely to act out online than they would in face to face interactions. A combination of several factors creates the ideal environment for disinhibition including the anonymity, invisibility and lack of authority on social channels. Personality variables also contribute but the fact is that social media offers an instant, public route to a victim. For bullies who thrive on attention, targeting their victims on social seems to be ideal. As Instagram have acknowledged, many instances of bullying take place both online and offline but studies have shown that online abuse may have more negative and lasting effects. While it is refreshing to see Instagram taking action on the issue, are they doing enough to quell cyber bullying?
Instagram has always been seen as one of the kinder social media spaces compared to its more established counterparts. Twitter for example, has an extreme problem with trolls on the site, with over 48 million fake accounts on the platform and endless calls to provide a more robust reporting and blocking system. Efforts to alleviate abuse on Twitter have thus far fallen short. While Instagram are being more proactive in introducing changes, reports of harassment on the platform are increasing and their privacy settings are not as comprehensive as they could be. An investigation by Taylor Lorenz at The Atlantic documents that the reporting process on Instagram is not effective and outlines the abuse sustained by a whole host of users, ranging from abuse and violent threats to stalking. Just last year, comedian Pete Davidson was subjected to intense attacks from fans of his former girlfriend Ariana Grande after the couple parted ways. The sheer volume of abusive messages calling for his suicide spurred Davidson to delete his account. This toxic abuse cycle stems from disinhibition and de-individuation theory, where mob mentality reigns and users post hateful comments, failing to register the very real person on the receiving end.
Adam Mosseri, Instagram’s CEO outlined that this is just the beginning – “We know bullying is a challenge many face, particularly young people. We are committed to leading the industry in the fight against online bullying, and we are rethinking the whole experience of Instagram to meet that commitment.” Still with a recent study finding that 42% of participants reported being cyberbullied on Instagram, there is still much to do. It is essential that Instagram take a holistic approach, first in improving it’s user reporting process, removing repeat offenders from the site and upping investment into anti-cyber bullying education programmes. For the moment, the Restrict feature has been welcomed as a positive step. Let’s hope that Instagram continue on this trajectory and prompt other social channels to follow suit.