Instagram is releasing a new anti-bullying tool. 

Users who are about to post text that’s been previously identified as ‘inappropriate’ by AI will be interrupted with a message asking ‘Are you sure you want to post this?’

On the receiving end, a ‘Restrict’ tool will allow users to filter out abusive comments without having to block, unfollow or report the source. 

Following some high-profile cases where online bullying has led to suicides, particularly among teenagers, any attempt to take on the trolls is welcome. 

But is that the real intention, and will it work anyway?

How bullies work

You don’t need to read Psychology Today to suspect that bullies typically feel less empathy than other people. They do not feel guilty about trolling. In fact bullying makes them feel “funny, popular and powerful”. Worse, those who believe others are bullying online are more likely to do it themselves. And don’t expect parents to step in. The standard profile of an online troll is characterised by a poor parent-child relationship, or – worse still – total indifference. 

So ‘Are you sure you want to post this?’ is likely to be met with a resounding ‘Duh, yeah!’

How social media works

And why shouldn’t they? After all, aren’t social proof, fun, popularity and the chance to fill an emotional void the point of social media and the modus operandi of advertising?

We’ve trained people to check their social media feeds as soon as they wake up, follow their phone around town, and submit every detail of their lives to public scrutiny. 

‘Are you sure…?’ comes about 10 years too late. 

How to stop online bullying

Trolling is passive aggressive behaviour. It’s the drone strike of online warfare. Nothing grinds a bully’s gears like the sight of someone having a better time than them, which unfortunately happens to be the raison d’etre of the social media feed. 

So ‘Are you sure you want to post this?’ is the wrong question. 

  • It assumes the person who burns a £50 in front of a beggar feels bad about it. 
  • It hopes that the kind of person who kicks down a sandcastle had a back-up plan. 
  • It wants to believe that, deep down, we’re all hard-wired to ‘like’ life. 
  • Worst of all, it offers no consequences.

If Instagram wants to define itself as a platform with zero tolerance of bullying, hate, or intolerance, why not take the initiative and set acceptable behaviour as the minimum standard for entry? 

Why is Instagram doing this?

It does rather look as if the big social media platforms are frantically scrabbling to do their due diligence retroactively. It’s probably too late, and too little. Hamfisted, tech-deaf government regulation looks inevitable. Where are the controls, health warnings and regulation at sign-up, one might ask? There’s a more difficult question coming, too. 

Is all of this really doing us any good anyway?

Elephant in room warning

Social media is not the world’s ‘Happy place’. As far back in online years as 1998, a study by Robert Kraut at Carnegie Mellon University identified a direct correlation between internet use and loneliness and depression. With the subsequent arrival of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok and more, the evidence is overwhelming that social media makes us depressed, envious, and addicted. It turns social interaction and experience into a commodity, life into a peer-reviewed trial.

Don’t send us your dick clicks

Who’s going to make it happier? We could start. As advertisers, we spend billions on reaching people online, by age, gender, location and behaviour. But we need to know, too, if that next click is coming from someone who is, quite frankly, a bit of a dick. If the platform is toxic, if users only come to fat-shame, spout racist claptrap, or incite the vulnerable to commit suicide (WTF?), we’ll make our excuses and leave. Are social media platforms sure they want to allow this?

So while we welcome any attempt to curb bullying online, it’s not without scepticism. If AI can identify a post that’s ‘inappropriate’, why not block it entirely? If the initiative is anything more than cosmetic, why not apply more stringent restrictions on who can create an account? But hey, other opinions are available. Tell us where we’re off the mark (but nicely)…