Instagram Takes Steps to Protect Mental Health
We’re happy to see that Instagram is owning up to the fact that the popular image-sharing platform, meant to be “a safe and positive place for self-expression” can also be toxic to users.
The move comes on the heels of research that rated Instagram “the most detrimental platform for youth mental health” because it makes users, especially women, feel less happy about their lives. The steps rolled out last week won’t keep adolescents from comparing themselves negatively to other kids’ carefully curated, digitally manipulated and envy-inspiring feeds. But they could help them avoid subjecting themselves to vicious comments about their own posts.
New tools allow users to block certain groups or individuals from commenting on their posts, without having to block comments entirely. Of course a user has to make the choice to block hurtful commenters, and that requires maturity and self-awareness not everyone has. That’s why we urge kids to use social media mindfully — that is, to pay attention to the things that make them feel stressed and undermine their self-esteem, and choose actively not to do them.
Since last summer, Instagram has been blocking some offensive words in comments, and that feature is expanding from English to other languages.
One other new thing we salute is a “report as needing assistance” feature, which allows a user who’s concerned about something she sees in live video to anonymously alert Instagram. The person posting the video will see “a message offering help with options to talk to a helpline, reach out to a friend or get other tips and support.”
This addresses the distressing fact that so many teenagers and young adults who are suicidal share their feelings (and even intentions) with peers who don’t know what to do with the information. They may not know whether to take suicide threats seriously, and they are often afraid to risk a friendship by alerting adults or authorities. We encourage kids to be willing to err on the side of caution.
Instagram is also launching a campaign promoting #kindcomments, though “kindness walls and stickers.” No idea whether kindness is catching via that kind of effort, but we’re glad Instagram is acknowledging the problem.