Instagram’s Pledge to Fight Online Bullying
Do social media platforms have the responsibility to restrict and monitor bullying? Most would agree, yes. But the questions is: how much can we expect from these platforms?
Actually, a lot.
Take, for example, Instagram, which has been working to reduce, monitor, and restrict bullying on the visual storyboard platform creating a more safe environment for users.
Strategies released this month to prevent and reduce online bullying, including encouraging positive interactions and utilizing artificial intelligence. The artificial intelligence (AI) uses state of the art technology that monitors offensive comments and notifies people when their comment may be considered offensive—before it is posted.
When AI detects a comment considered offensive, a pop-up notification occurs, giving a person a chance to reflect and undo their comment.
For example, if a person is about to post: ‘You’re ugly and stupid,’ the notification will ask: ‘Are you sure you want to post this?’ with a Learn more button you can click to find out why the notification happened.
On the receiving end, Instagram is also taking measures to protect accounts from unwanted interactions with Restrict, a feature that allows a user to block or restrict an unwanted follower or comments in a private way.
All of these initiatives have been intentional and well thought out.
Instagram surveyed young people on the platform and learned a few things: when a person is bullied on the platform, there’s a reluctance to block, unfollow or report this behavior for fear of escalating the bullying.
And that fear increases if the young person has to interact with their bully in real life. Instagrams solution was to create a way for people to Restrict, which allows users to restrict comments on a person’s posts only visible to that person or by approving their comments.
And, when a user Restricts someone, that person will not be able to see when a person is active on the platform or if direct messages have been read or not.
Will These Additions to the Platform Eliminate Online Bullying on Instagram?
Likely not, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Combatting bullying, whether online or in real-time is a collective effort, dividing responsibility between the platform, the user, and for those children/teens not yet independent, by support from a parent/guardian.
User beware: setting up an account on any social media platform to connect and share also creates opportunities and vulnerability.
Forms of Online Bullying
Online bullying can happen in several ways. It can be from accounts created to tease, or make fun of another person, comments in a person’s story or page, or by messaging an account directly (this includes messages that come from ‘fake’ accounts hiding the identity of the user.
If you think bullying is a low occurrence on social media platforms, think again.
As with any bullying, in real-time or online, the reality is, the incidence of bullying across the board is under-reported.
Research through surveying children, teens, and parents about cyberbullying vary includes the following statistics:
- A 2017 survey from the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice shows findings that teens age 12-18 years old, 15% reported being bullied online or by text
- A 2017 survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicates approximately 14.9 % of high school students were bullied online within the past 12 months
And while not all teens and youth will experience online bullying on Instagram, chances are they will be exposed to bullying through observing it, or they may experience it and not share it as bullying is frequently under-reported.
Instagram’s new efforts and AI is a great first step to reducing online bullying. And more can be done, starting with the personal responsibility of the user of such platforms, and if the person is a minor on the platform, then the responsibility falls on the parents and guardian to monitor their child’s use on the platform.
What Parents Can Do
As a clinical psychologist, I recommend parents and guardians to form habits to protect your child from being cyberbullying.
- Monitor your child/teens use on smartphones, tablets, computers, not only how much time they spend on it, but also the apps, games, photos, videos they take and post and the ones they receive.
- Follow your child/teen on social media.
- Monitor their browsing history.
- Change the settings in your child/teen phone to keep the location private.
- Know the various social media platforms and the way your child/teen uses them. Common Sense Media is a great resource, reviewing age appropriateness and the content (violence, sex, language, etc.) of movies, television shows, books, apps and games such as TikTok, YouTube, Fortnight, Snapchat.
- Know your child/teens passwords
- Have frequent and open conversations about what your child/teen is exposed to online, what they are experiencing and how they are interacting on social media or apps
I also encourage parents to watch for signs of bullying which include:
- Changes in behavior.
These behaviors can include constantly being on the phone, messaging and/or preoccupied with waiting for responses or activity.
2. Hiding/deleting accounts.
This can include either secretively or telling you directly that they have created multiple new accounts on the same platform.
3. Social withdrawal.
Withdrawing socially is a tell-tale sign, especially if said withdrawal is from activities or friends they once spent time with.
4. Irritable mood or behavior.
5. Changes in appetite or sleep
6. Negative self-talk
Teaching your child/teen how to interact and respond to others on social media is a skill they need to learn. Relying solely on the social media platform to create a safe environment is setting your child/teen up for failure.
Here’s something I often share in the therapy room with parents: Asking your child or teen: “Have you ever been bullied?” is a super broad question and will likely not get much information.
Instead, consider asking:
- Can you share with me a time when you received a mean comment or message while on (fill in the social media platform)?
- Can you share a time when you were teased, or someone said something not nice about a photo or something you posted?
- When was the last time you received a message or comment you didn’t want?
- Have you ever posted a not so nice comment on (share the social media platform)?
- Can you share a time when you posted a comment or shared something that hurt someone’s feelings?
And while social media platforms like Instagram are combatting the bullying issues through sophisticated technological detection, and more open reporting guidelines, nothing will ever replace parenting.
That is the skill many parents need to be aware of of…we as parents have to be scanning and detecting the changes we see in our children and teens.
Because detecting bullying in software is one part of combatting bullying, so is knowing and understanding our children.
But nothing-no advanced technology or bullying detection software or reporting can replace parenting and knowing your child.