Instagram now offers a tool that automatically blocks comments if they include certain abusive words. It’s a wonderfully simple way of dealing with the harassment and the other nastiness that plagues so many of today’s online social networks, including the photo-happy, Facebook-owned Instagram. And it makes us wonder: Why aren’t others doing the same thing? Or, more specifically, why isn’t Twitter doing the same thing?
Harassment and hate speech is a pretty serious problem on the Internet, and particularly on Twitter, which seems so optimized to enable mob-style abuse. The recent campaign waged against actress Leslie Jones is the example du jour, but this kind of thing happens all the time, spanning everything from anti-Semitic attacks to Gamergate.
And it happens on Instagram too. Justin Bieber recently shut down his Instagram account when people flooded a picture of him and his new girlfriend, Sofia Richie, with hateful comments. This summer, others filled Rachel Roy’s Instagram comments with bee emojis when a post implied she might be involved in Beyonce’s marital problems with husband Jay-Z–and they mistakenly targeted food network TV host Rachael Ray.
Until recently, social networks offered little recourse, seeming to take action only when incidents involved high-profile celebrities or influencers. But with its new tool–which “hides inappropriate comments”–Instagram is now making what appears to be a good-faith effort to address the problem on a much wider scale. The company says it uses its own list of abusive words to block comments by default, though it declined to share specifics with WIRED, explaining that bad actors could try to game the system. “They are the profanity you might expect,” a company spokeswoman says. Individuals can also type in additional custom keywords that they want to block.
Twitter, meanwhile, recently rolled out anti-harassment tools of its own, including a “quality filter” and a new tool that lets you limit who gets to buzz your phone with @-replies. Reports indicate that it is also working on keyword moderation tools, and it may introduce these tools in the near future. But they aren’t here yet. Many high-profile Twitter users have criticized the company for not going far enough.
Part of the issue is that Twitter sees itself a little differently. Unlike, say, Facebook, Twitter has always been about public, unedited messaging. That’s what drove its initial popularity. And now it is struggling to balance that history with efforts to stop abuse. It doesn’t want to piss off some people while appeasing others–an especially sensitive matter when the company faces whether or not to ban accounts of a certain political bent. Understandably, Twitter doesn’t want to seem biased. But sometimes, those decisions are unavoidable. After all, one person’s political speech can be another’s call for violence.
Instagram doesn’t have the same dilemma. Like Facebook–its parent company–it has always been more than just a firehose. “To empower each individual, we need to promote a culture where everyone feels safe to be themselves without criticism or harassment,” Kevin Systrom, Instagram co-founder and CEO, says in a blog post. “It’s not only my personal wish to do this, I believe it’s also our responsibility as a company.”
He’s right. In fact, it’s the responsibility of any social networks, no matter their history. Hear that, Twitter?