Update: September 26, 2017: Instagram is taking additional steps towards limiting hate speech and promoting online safety with the introduction of multiple new tools.
Beginning today, anyone whose account is set to public will be able to specify who can comment on their posts. You can keep comments open to "everyone" or limit them to select groups of people. You can also block specific accounts from commenting on your posts (this function applies to those users with private accounts, too). Head to your Settings > Comments to make adjustments.
Instagram is also increasing its mental health resources. "If you see someone going through a difficult time or in need of support during a live broadcast, you can report it anonymously," Instagram Co-Founder and CEO Kevin Systrom wrote in a post about the app's new tools.
That person will see a message offering ways for them to seek help or get in touch with a friend.
This feature is already available for the Instagram posts you see in your feed, but it's especially important to have it a real-time service like Live, since the videos can easily disappear after a broadcast is finished.
This article was originally published on June 29, 2017.
Hate speech is a consistent problem across social media platforms, from Twitter to Instagram. In the past, moderators worked tirelessly behind the scenes to look at reported posts, and take the action deemed appropriate by their company guidelines. But machine learning is increasingly being used as a more scaleable way to handle such posts.
Such is the case at Instagram: Today, the app announced a new function that will automatically block offensive comments on posts and videos when turned on. Instagram started offering a comment filter last September, but compared to that, the feature released today is far more advanced.
"We believe that using machine learning to build tools to safeguard self-expression is an important step in fostering more inclusive, kinder communities," Instagram CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom wrote in a blog post about the new feature.
The "Hide Offensive Comments" filter will now be on by default. You'll still be able to delete and report other comments, especially ones you feel the filter ought to have caught. The hope is that this feature will drastically decrease hate speech for those who want it. If you want to disable the filter, off you can always go to your settings, tap Comments, and toggle it off "Hide Offensive Comments." For now, the comment filter will only be available in English, although Instagram said it will expand the function in coming months.
Another filter is working to hide the spam messages that seem to show up far too often, especially in the comment sections of larger accounts belonging to celebs or brands. The filter is well-versed in multiple languages, and will be able to catch spam written in Spanish, Portuguese, English, Arabic, French, German, Russian, Japanese and Chinese, Systrom wrote in the blog post.
“Comments are a powerful space on Instagram — they're your space," Nicky Jackson Colaco, Instagram's director of public policy, wrote in an email to Refinery29. "We believe we can filter out many of the day-to-day toxic comments that people tell us can make them less likely to share, or cause them stress.”
Wired also reports that the person who posted the blocked comment will still see their comment below the post, and won't know that it's invisible to everyone else.
Though there is still much work to be done, these filters, which leverage more advanced AI technology, are a positive step forward.