Instagram seeks solution for the internet's troll problem

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The platform is reportedly testing out new moderation features on celebrities' accounts

When negative comments posted beneath Taylor Swift's Instagram pictures recently disappeared en masse, reports suggested the musician had been given a "secret" tool to delete online abuse.

Campaign understands that Instagram is testing ways to manage abuse and spam, and it is trialling these methods on accounts with a high volume of comments — namely celebrities.

Instagram wouldn’t comment on whether it is testing anti-abuse tools with Swift, or whether this would give her the ability to remove all negative comments at will.

But UK brands will soon be privy to similar controls.

In May, Instagram rolled out business profiles in the US and Australia with a new comment moderation feature. When switched on, this blocks comments or phrases that are "often reported as offensive." The tool is automated, meaning brands do not need to flag comments on an individual basis — although they may still need to report less recognizably abusive posts directly to Instagram. It is thought that the tools will be available to UK brands in the coming weeks.

Brands can look forward to better automated comment moderation, according to Tom Ollerton, innovation director at We Are Social.

"The obvious conclusion to this is where artificial intelligence fits in," he says. "There will be AI being developed which can understand what an abusive content is, and which can deploy an interface or chatbot that debates with a user whether something is potentially offensive to other people."

But winning the battle against online trolls won’t be easy, says Digby Lewis, head of platforms and distribution at Iris. Social media is becoming more visual, so how do algorithms moderate against, say, the person who sent Leslie Jones, the black star of "Ghostbusters," a picture of an ape?

Lewis points to Snapchat’s built-in facial recognition: "You need that kind of complex technology to understand Facebook Live or Periscope, and to understand that moderation may not just be required for words and audio but visual as well."

Then there’s the fine balance between censoring users and keeping celebrities who drive huge amounts of user engagement happy. It would be "dangerous" if social platforms were to lose high-profile users, as they help attract brands, Ollerton says.

But it’s unlikely that celebrities will desert social media in droves for their own "safe spaces," as actor David Hasselhoff did in 2008. "I don’t think there’s going to be another Hoff Space," Ollerton adds.

Instagram updates

What marketers need to know

  • Like celebrities, advertisers also deal with high levels of abuse from online commentators. More automated tools will make the lives of in-house community managers easier.
  • If celebrities have more capabilities to deal with online abuse, they are more likely to stick around on social platforms. That’s a win for services such as Instagram, as well as the marketers who want to target highly engaged millennial audiences.
  • Comment moderation reduces the risk of advertisers damaging their brands by accidental association with offensive content.

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