As noted recently by Instagram chief Adam Mosseri, a key aim for Instagram is to create a platform where all users feel safe to express whatever they want, without the fear of criticism, negative comments, or indeed, cyberbullying.
Trolls and abuse are a problem on every platform, and Instagram is looking to take a lead on this, which includes testing out significant new changes and options - like, say, hiding total like counts, which reduces the emphasis on social comparison, and, ideally, puts it back onto the content itself.
That's where Instagram's latest new feature comes in. This week, Instagram is rolling out a new option called 'Restrict', which will enable users to limit the exposure of certain users when the comment on their posts.
As explained by Instagram:
"You can restrict someone by swiping left on a comment, through the Privacy tab in Settings, or directly on the profile of the account you intend to restrict. Once Restrict is enabled, comments on your posts from a person you have restricted will only be visible to that person. You can choose to view their comment by tapping “See Comment;” approve the comment so everyone can see it; delete it; or ignore it. You won’t receive any notifications for comments from a restricted account."
In other words, you can shut down any commentor you chose, without that person knowing, which means they can go on thinking they're reaching you, and your followers, but they won't be. It's a good option for those who have ongoing issues with certain users, and for whom blocking is not effective (they can go and create another account), though you would still expect there to be some real-world blow-back for those you've restricted if they actually work it out.
But even with that proviso, there are clear benefits to the option. In many ways, its similar to the 'Hide Comment' option on Facebook, which enables you to get rid of unwanted comments for your followers, with only the original commentor and his/her friends able to see it. 'Restrict' goes a little further, in that no one can see it other than the poster, but the idea is the same - it dilutes the potential insult of being blocked entirely by masking the action, reducing conflict and cleaning up feeds.
In addition to this, by using 'Restrict', instead of blocking someone, users can still keep tabs on that users' comments, and report them at a later stage if they cross the line. It seems like a good way to better manage such, but it'll be interesting to see how it actually works in practice, and whether it provides an improved user experience.
But it is good to see Instagram testing the new option. Yes, there are some potential issues that could come about as a result, but the roll-out shows that Instagram is willing to try out new things, to push the established parameters in order to test new ways to help keep users safe.
This is particularly important for younger users - as reported by CNN:
"Fifty-nine percent of US teens have been bullied or harassed online, according to a 2018 study from Pew. Another study conducted by a non-profit anti-bullying group found that 42% of cyberbullying victims between the ages of 12 and 20 said they were bullied on Instagram."
The significance of online bullying, particularly among younger user groups, cannot be overstated, and definitely, anything that Instagram can do, can test, it should, as each experiment brings us closer to better solutions in this regard.
In addition to limiting the reach of comments, direct messages from accounts you've restricted will also go to your 'Message Request' folder, and users won't receive notifications from restricted accounts.
"You can still view the messages but the restricted account will not be able to see when you’ve read their direct messages or when you are active on Instagram. You can choose to “Unrestrict” the account and future messages will go directly to your inbox."
On another front, Instagram also recently released a 'Create Don’t Hate sticker', which, when tapped, provides an explanation as to how the sticker is being used to stand up to online bullying.
The sticker is part of a broader push to inspire Instagram users to apply their creativity to anti-bullying messages, another way in which the platform is seeking to enhance the discussion and address anti-social behavior.
In combination, these measures will help to advance the platform's messaging around what's acceptable, and what's not, and ideally, make Instagram a safer place for all users.