Last week, rumors ran rampant that Instagram was testing ways to eliminate abusive comments on celebrity feeds such as Taylor Swift’s. Now, the social platform revealed it is in fact testing a new feature that allows users, including businesses, to filter out hate speech on profiles.
The feature will be first made available to high-profile accounts, such as those of celebrities who have recently experienced harassment on social media, and later rolled out to all users.
Recent high-profile examples of harassment on social media platforms have pressured the platforms to take action against hateful online behavior. "Ghostbusters" actress Leslie Jones was plagued by racist comments on Twitter two weeks ago, the same time Swift was also abused on Instagram after a public fight with Kim Kardashian and husband Kanye West.
In comments on Swift's Instagram photos, people verbally harassed the star and left snake emojis. Those posts were removed, either by Instagram or Swift herself.
Instagram is limiting the number of snake emojis you can comment with on Taylor Swift's post hahahaha pic.twitter.com/JGimSNyv8X— Josh Eichenbaum (@The_eichenBOMB) July 18, 2016
.@taylorswift13 testing ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????— Myles Brown (@mdotbrown) July 18, 2016
Of course, the problem extends beyond celebrities—each week Instagram receives over a million reports from users about hate speech on the platform.
To combat the problem, Instagram is giving users the ability to filter comments on their accounts by using selective keywords that they deem offensive, and to also turn off comments on certain posts.
"Our goal is to make Instagram a friendly, fun and, most importantly, safe place for self-expression," said an Instagram spokesperson. "We have slowly begun to offer accounts with high volume comment threads the option to moderate their comment experience. As we learn, we look forward to improving the comment experience for our broader community."
Instagram and parent company Facebook currently patrol the platforms for "credible threats or hate speech," according to Instagram’s community guidelines. And while Instagram currently allows users to delete comments on their posts and report abuse, the new feature will add the ability to moderate a greater number of comments at one time.
At least one social media strategist welcomed the change. "We’re happy to see Instagram taking a serious stance on online harassment," said Kim Jimenez, senior social strategist at Omelet, Los Angeles. "Moderating comments will always be a gray area, but putting the power directly in the hands of the users is the best way to approach this touchy situation."
Brands too have a responsibility to shape the conversations taking place on their accounts. "If they stand by and ignore hate speech, especially on their owned channels, they are implicitly condoning it," said Rachel Mercer, vp, digital strategy director at Deutsch.
However, moderating the comments on brand accounts may take away from the authenticity of the conversation, added Mercer. "We know with our own brands that blanketed negative comment blocking would subtract any credibility, trust, and authenticity that the brand has with their audiences — something that we explicitly work to build," she said.