Culture

Instagram is adding new anti-abuse tools to keep hate out of DMs

From comment filters to blocking tools, Instagram is trying to make its platform less aggravating for its audience, and less appealing for hatemongers.

Teenage girl using smart phone in the dark. Sad teenager with mobile phone, scared of threatening, mobile abuse. Front view of a sad teen checking phone
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Instagram is introducing new "stricter penalties" for abusive messages, the company announced in a blog post on Wednesday. The Facebook-owned social media network will let users filter abusive direct messages in their inboxes by blocking both user-defined keywords and a predefined list of terms harassers often use, including deliberate misspellings of slurs.

Through this new tool, Instagram will let users activate automatic filtering for direct messages. This filter will comb through the inbox and look for potentially offensive words, phrasing, and even emojis that might be used to harass an individual. This particular tool will emphasize filtering direct message requests that land in the secondary inbox on Instagram. This is because, the firm says, direct message requests are where "people usually receive abusive messages."

The company will also make it more difficult for previously blocked users to contact people under new accounts. This feature gives users the chance to block existing accounts as well as preemptively block new accounts to avoid further contact. Both tools are expected to go live in multiple countries over the coming few weeks. Instagram hasn’t explained how it's able to block repeat offenders from merely creating new accounts. If it’s IP-based, we hope this remains a work in progress, as IP addresses can easily be altered via the use of a VPN.

Coming to Settings soon — Through the Instagram settings menu, users can activate this tool by heading over to the “Hidden Words” option. In this menu, they can choose to “Hide Comments,” “Hide Message Requests,” and manage their custom word list. Users can add words, phrases, and emojis they don't want to see in their comments or message requests.

Instagram says it consulted various anti-bullying and anti-harassment groups to understand the psychological effect that abusive content can have on a user and help put together the offensive terms list it harnesses. "We know different words can be hurtful to different people so you’ll also have the option to create your own custom list of words, phrases or emojis that you don’t want to see in your DM requests."

Once Hidden Requests is activated, users will see an option at the bottom of their inbox with all filtered messages. If they open a filtered hidden message, the original content of that entry will appear under the warning, "Message hidden based on your hidden words preferences." They can then still choose to view messages and accept requests if they wish to, and can block or report accounts as usual.

Instagram’s efforts to combat on-platform abuse comes just a few weeks after TikTok also tried to mitigate harassment on its platform, and ahead of its stated plans to create a version of its service for children under 13, something watchdogs have slammed, and probably the worst idea since Instagram took away the chronological feed. It’s difficult to believe content filters and preemptive blocks alone will be able to keep trolls at bay. Haters are, after all, going to hate.