The battle against online abuse and harassment is a huge challenge for social networks.
This has been most evident on Twitter - Twitter's focus on real-time conversation and comment makes it particularly difficult for the platform to police hateful comments, because how can you censor people in real-time? Automated detection tools are one option, but such systems are not quite advanced enough to be effective (though developers are making progress).
And while the perfect solution may never eventuate, Instagram has today released their latest effort to curb such interactions and improve the user experience.
Last month, reports filtered out that Instagram was working on a new, user-defined, keyword moderation tool for comments to reduce the impact of harassment on the platform. The tool was first highlighted when thousands of instances of the "snake" emoji disappeared from Taylor Swift's Instagram comments stream (Swift had come under fire as part of a rift between herself and The Wests).
Reports suggested that Swift had been able to cull the snakes because of a new option where users could select specific words and/or emoji they didn't want to see in their stream, effectively censoring their own feed. At that stage we'd already seen Instagram's new comment moderation tool for brand profiles, which enables business profiles to block comments with words or phrases often reported as offensive from appearing on your posts, but this was new - Swift had access to a tool that enabled her (or her team) to specify the snake emoji.
That new process was later confirmed by model Chrissy Teigan:
And from today, all users will have access to that same option, enabling them to block specific words (or emoji) from their Instagram comment feed.
As noted by Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom:
"To empower each individual, we need to promote a culture where everyone feels safe to be themselves without criticism or harassment. It's not only my personal wish to do this, I believe it's also our responsibility as a company. So, today, we're taking the next step to ensure Instagram remains a positive place to express yourself."
The process is fairly straightforward - as you can see from the above screenshot, users can either use Instagram's automated keyword detection, which hides comments that contain "words or phrases often reported as inappropriate", or they can enter their own, specific list of words they don't want to see (or use both).
Again, it's not a perfect solution, but it is a model that's shown promise elsewhere - Facebook introduced keyword blocking back in 2011, while Twitter is also reportedly working on a similar tool to help combat the tide of abuse on their platform.
And while people who are dedicated to trolling others on the platform will be able to find ways around such blocks (a Twitter user pointed out, in response to Chrissy Teigan's tweet above, that she'd just inadvertently showed people what words to avoid to get around her personal blocking), and it's only effective in retrospect - potentially after the damage has been done - it does give users another way to control their on-platform experience, which can only be a good thing in the ongoing effort to make the online space safer and more comfortable for all.
Of course, some will see this as a form of censorship - should businesses, in particular, be able to eliminate certain critical comments from their streams? But really, they can do this anyway - you can already delete comments from your feed after they've been posted. This just makes that process more proactive, and if there is a major concern that a brand might want to hide from their feed, it'll still be circulating throughout the online space. Sticking your head on the sand on your own feeds won't stop it.
In addition to the comment filter, Instagram's also going to start displaying in a more personalized way. As noted by TechCrunch:
"The company is also rolling out another change that will show more personalized, relevant comments in the comments preview you see on posts in the feed or on a profile, instead of the two most recent comments. Similar to Facebook, this means you'll start seeing your friends' comments before others, when browsing."
And one other new Instagram addition (as highlighted by Matt Navarra), they've also added a new "Follows you" note on user profiles.
There's more information on how the new Instagram personalized filters work available via Instagram's Help Center here.