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Instagram Considers Changes with Goal of Healthier Online Environment

It’s hard to talk about teens without talking about social media. Let’s be real, it’s hard to talk about much of anything without talking about social media. Clearly, there has been a seismic shift in the way that people communicate with each other, and social media is here to stay.

It’s not all bad: Many platforms have proven to be a great way to keep in touch with friends and family, to organize events, to discuss current issues, to find people with like-minded interests, and to share and learn information. However, these same platforms have also caused an increase in anxiety, a need for constant validation, sleep deprivation, and distraction.

And if these concerns aren’t serious enough, it is becoming more and more clear that social media addiction is a real problem. It’s discouraging to realize that many of these companies have designed their platforms with the intention of getting users hooked. And they’ve done their jobs well.

So much discussion has occurred about how to control our kids’  (and our own) time online in order to curb the negative impact. However, given how much technology has infiltrated our daily lives, even families who try to go tech-free find that it’s not so easy.

So what are we to do?

Enter Adam Mosseri, the Head of Instagram. Mosseri insists that Instagram is designed as a way to make connections with people and things that we love (it’s especially great for food, for example) and to provide people with the opportunity to express themselves (crazy cat ladies, go for it).

However, he recognizes that the opportunity to be more anonymous on social media has also led to an increased amount of bullying. Finding this unacceptable, he felt it was the company’s responsibility to review the Instagram experience and look for ways to improve it and combat Instagram bullying.

In a recent story in Time Magazine, Mosseri explained, “Technology isn’t inherently good or bad in the first place. It just is. And social media, as a type of technology, is often an amplifier. It’s on us to make sure we’re amplifying the good and not amplifying the bad.”

Accordingly, Instagram has announced several proposed changes geared toward encouraging positive interaction and the wellbeing of its users.

3 Instagram Improvements for Responsible Usage:

1. “Think before you post” check.

First, Instagram has rolled out a new feature that uses Artificial Intelligence to interpret comments. If the comment is considered potentially offensive, the feature will notify the person who made it. In essence, this feature is the “think before you say something” check. The hope is that this intervention will provide enough of a pause to influence the person to reconsider what they are saying. When Instagram tested this feature, the results were encouraging.

2. Better account controls.

Second, Instagram is about to test a new feature called “Restrict.” This feature arose due to the fact that teen users have had difficulty standing up to the bullying or inappropriate behavior of others. For example, blocking or reporting someone on social media can lead to escalated bullying in real life. And, if they block a bully, then they lose the ability to keep track of this threatening person’s behavior.

“Restrict” attempts to give users more control. When a user restricts someone, only the user can see the comments that this person makes. Then the user can decide whether to approve them and make them visible or leave them hidden. Furthermore, someone who is restricted won’t know when the person who restricted them is active.

3. Making “likes” private.

Finally, perhaps the most controversial change is one that the company is currently testing in Canada: making “like” counts private. While a user can still like a post, the only person who will be able to see how many likes they get is the person who makes the post. Motivated by a desire for the platform to be more about connecting with other people than competing for attention, Mosseri declared that he is willing to experiment in an effort to provide a healthier environment for people who use Instagram.

Indeed, if Instagram does implement these changes, it will be a game-changer, which is exactly the point. Mosseri has claimed that he will make changes in order to keep people safe even if it means losing users. Like so many parents and teens, he is passionate about creating a healthier environment. Here’s hoping.

Jody Podl

Jody Podl is a teacher at Shaker Heights High School.