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Instagram To Police Private Messages For Abusive Content

Menlo Park, CA – Instagram announced on Feb. 10 that it will begin policing the content in private direct messages (DMs) as part of its new crackdown on hate speech.

“We want Instagram to be a place for people to connect with the people and things they love. But we also know that, just like in the offline world, there will always be those who abuse others,” Instagram said in a press release posted to their website on Feb. 10.

“We’ve seen it most recently with racist online abuse targeted at footballers in the UK. We don’t want this behavior on Instagram,” the post continued.

The company went on to explain that the abuse is happening mostly in private direct messages sent to users, “which is harder to address than comments on Instagram.”

“Because DMs are for private conversations, we don’t use technology to proactively detect content like hate speech or bullying the same way we do in other places,” the press release explained. “But there are still more steps we can take to help prevent this type of behavior.”

Going forward, Instagram said they planned to monitor private messages and start deleting the accounts of the people who sent abusive ones.

Instagram reiterated its platform rules and said the social media app did not “tolerate attacks on people based on their protected characteristics, including race or religion.”

The company has already banned “more implicit forms of hate speech,” such as pictures that showed someone in blackface or anti-Semitic jokes, according to the press release.

“We take action whenever we become aware of hate speech, and we’re continuously improving our detection tools so we can find it faster,” Instagram wrote.

The censorship of private messages isn’t new for the app, according to the press release.

The social media platform claimed they took action on “6.5 million pieces of hate speech on Instagram, including in DMs, 95% of which we found before anyone reported it” between July and September of 2020.

In the past, Instagram users who violated the app’s rules and sent abusive private messages had their messaging privileges suspended for a period of time, the company explained in the press release.

But now Instagram said they planned to get much, much more aggressive in policing so-called “hate speech.”

“Now, if someone continues to send violating messages, we’ll disable their account,” the company vowed in the press release. “We’ll also disable new accounts created to get around our messaging restrictions, and will continue to disable accounts we find that are created purely to send abusive messages.”

Instagram promised to continue to push back against unreasonable requests from law enforcement but said they are committed to working with British authorities to police hate speech and “respond to valid legal requests for information,” the press release read.

The company also touted a slew of new user control tools that are supposed to improve the Instagram experience, including comment filters.

“We also saw a meaningful decrease in offensive comments after we started using AI to warn people when they’re about to post something that might be hurtful,” Instagram bragged in their post.

Instagram also promised to quickly roll out to personal users the same DM-blocking tools they’ve already provided to businesses.

The company said they’re still struggling with how to stop users from seeing mean DMs that have been sent to them in the first place and said that reading offensive messages “takes a toll” on people, the press release said.

Instagram will continued to work on ways to police private messages so that users won’t even know if somebody sent them something the company considers to be offensive.

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Written by
Sandy Malone

Managing Editor - Twitter/@SandyMalone_ - Prior to joining The Police Tribune, Sandy wrote the Politics.Net column for the Wall Street Journal and was managing editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine. More recently, she was an internationally-syndicated columnist for Conde Nast (BRIDES), The Huffington Post, and Monsters and Critics. Sandy is married to a retired police captain and former SWAT commander.

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