Instagram update to combat harassment gives assholes new obstacles to work around

Social media has its pros and cons, obviously, and for so many women victimized by internet trolls and creeps, one of those cons is gross, gendered harassment. In an effort to combat this, and really all forms of offensive comments, Instagram announced an update to protect users from abuse Monday. The feature, once exclusively available to high-profile accounts, moderates comments through identifying offensive keywords and filtering comments containing them. All users can enter words they find offensive to be filtered out of their comments. It’s all part of the company’s effort to establish a “positive and safe” environment for users.

To activate the feature, users only need to open up “Options,” scroll down to “Settings,” select “Comments,” then activate the “Hide inappropriate comments” feature and enter any words that disturb or make them uncomfortable (refer to the screenshots below).

In a Monday blog post, Instagram’s founders identified the policy as an effort to defend diversity, highlighting how women, minorities, and individuals of varying sexual orientations and identities are disproportionately the victims of harassment. The company wrote: “The beauty of the Instagram community is the diversity of its members. All different types of people — from diverse backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientations, abilities and more — call Instagram home, but sometimes the comments on their posts can be unkind. To empower each individual, we need to promote a culture where everyone feels safe to be themselves without criticism or harassment.”

In an ideal world, everyone — no matter their background — would feel equally comfortable sharing on social media. Still, Instagram acknowledges this new policy isn’t going to magically make the issue disappear, but it’s important to progressively work toward solutions regardless, writing:

“We know tools aren’t the only solution for this complex problem, but together, we can work towards keeping Instagram a safe place for self-expression. My commitment to you is that we will keep building features that safeguard the community and maintain what makes Instagram a positive and creative place for everyone.”

I have little doubt this policy will be hotly contested by Instagram bullies and trolls who are going to have to get a lot more creative and acquire some new, more tasteful vocabulary for their insults. They’re likely going to be outraged by this violation of their “freedom of speech” rights, but as Instagram points out, freedom of expression is being protected for those who are being intimidated by online abusers into not sharing.

This update comes close to one year after one woman launched a viral Instagram account to showcase 10 years’ worth of sexual threats and harassment she received on social media accounts, similar to another Instagram account dedicated to displaying harassment received by women on dating apps.

The update also notably follows the disturbing, equal parts racist and sexist harassment fielded by Ghostbusters’ Leslie Jones on Twitter and her website. Twitter has since been in the limelight for neglecting to adequately protect users like Jones from similar harassment, primarily dealt by the growing online alt-right movement. Hopefully, it will take a page from Instagram’s playbook and make things just a little harder for trolls everywhere.