Instagram's Approach To Anti-Bullying

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Logos of US social network Instagram are displayed on the screen of a smartphone, on May 2, 2019 in Nantes, western France. (Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images)
Logos of US social network Instagram are displayed on the screen of a smartphone, on May 2, 2019 in Nantes, western France. (Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images)

With Jane Clayson

Instagram is trying to fight back on bullying using artificial intelligence. We find out how.


Katy Steinmetz, San Francisco bureau chief for Time covering tech, politics, culture and language. (@katysteinmetz)

Sheri Bauman, professor of counseling at the University of Arizona. (@sheribauman)

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Time: "Inside Instagram's War on Bullying" — "Ethan Cohen tried to laugh off his first experience with bullying on Instagram. Like many kids his age, the Raleigh, N.C., teen eagerly joined the platform in middle school, and one day he discovered fellow students snickering at an account. Someone — he still does not know who — had started taking surreptitious photos of him and posting them under the username ethan_cohens_neck_vein. The feed was dedicated to jeers about what appeared to be a prominent muscle in his neck. One post compared it to the Great Wall of China. Another suggested 'systems of equations' could be done on its size. To friends, he dismissed it as a dumb prank, but privately he was distressed. Someone was tailing him and posting mocking pictures for all to see. 'The anonymity of it was freaky,' says Cohen, now 18. He reported the account multiple times to Instagram. Nothing happened, even though guidelines that govern behavior on the platform explicitly forbid mocking someone’s physical appearance.

"Today, Instagram says, the outcome would have been different. More sophisticated reporting tools and moderators would have quickly shut the account down. And, in the near future, the company aspires to something far more ambitious: sparing users like Cohen from having to report bullying in the first place by using artificial intelligence to root out behaviors like insults, shaming and disrespect. At a time when social media platforms are being blamed for a great deal of problems — and are under pressure from governments to demonstrate they can police themselves — Instagram has declared war on bullying. 'We are in a pivotal moment,' says Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri. 'We want to lead the industry in this fight.'

"It’s a logical step for what’s become the platform of choice for young people. As teenagers have become glued to the app, bullying has become to Instagram what 'fake news' is to Facebook and trolling is to Twitter: a seemingly unstoppable ill that users endure in order to be where everyone else is. By one estimate, nearly 80% of teens are on Instagram and more than half of those users have been bullied on the platform. And it gets far worse than neck taunts. In high school, Cohen came out as gay on Instagram and was pummeled by direct messages from a popular student calling him a 'faggot' and 'failed abortion.' Users suffer haunting humiliations and threats of violence. More broadly, bullying on sites like Instagram has been linked to self-destructive behavior."

Allison Pohle produced this segment for broadcast.

This segment aired on July 10, 2019.



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