Blocking cyberbullying on Instagram [The Richmond Register, by Dan Florell, 17/10/2017]

The picture of the teenager was a screenshot of him right before he was going to sneeze. There was also a caption below that said, “He can’t stand his own smell #stinky”. One of the teenager’s friends had just shown him the Instagram post and mentioned how it had gone around the school. Now all of those students holding their noses when they passed him in the hallway made sense. The teenager was mortified.

Instagram is one of the most popular social networks for teenagers. It also has been recently ranked as the one where cyberbullying is most likely to occur at 42 percent with Facebook (37 percent) and Snapchat (31 percent) not far behind.

There are a variety of ways teenagers can cyberbully on Instagram. In the situation above, the cyberbully posted an embarrassing photo and added an insulting comment. They also put a mean hashtag (#) on the photo so it could be seen by a larger audience.

Other techniques used by cyberbullies on Instagram include using screenshots of text messages or from FaceTime which expose teenagers’ private thoughts or them in unflattering poses. Cyberbullies will also create fake Instagram accounts where they upload mean or embarrassing photos or post cruel comments on other teenagers’ accounts. The result of all these actions is to hurt teenagers’ online reputation and cause them embarrassment or harm.

Instagram was well aware of the cyberbullying that was occurring on its’ network. So, it set out to find a way to help teenagers to prevent it from happening. Utilizing artificial intelligence, users of Instagram can now filter out offensive comments even before they are posted. In addition, Instagram is allowing users to choose specific words to filter and even block comments from individuals or groups. All of these new features mean that users will not even see or know that others are trying to post nasty comments about them.

In order to activate the filters, users need to download the latest Instagram version. Then, they need to go to settings under their profile and click on Comments. They should confirm that the Hide Offensive Comments is clicked on. Also under Comments, users can type in a person’s name into Block Comments From and none of that person’s comments will ever be shown.

The filtering tools were just the first step by Instagram to make their social network a more supportive environment. There is another new feature that allows users to anonymously report someone in distress. Instagram then immediately sends out a notice to the user with options to get connected to a helpline, offering suggestions on how to find help, or recommending calling a friend they trust.

To reinforce Instagram’s more supportive environment, they have added “kindness” walls and stickers. These changes seem to indicate that Instagram is serious about cutting down on the cyberbullying on its network.

The key for parents is to talk with their teenagers and make sure they have activated some of the filters. All too often, options within various apps are available that can cut down on the amount of negative information teenagers are exposed to but they are never activated. Take a little time and get the Instagram filters turned on so being with friends online can be the pleasant experience it was meant to be.

Dan Florell, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Eastern Kentucky University and has a private practice, MindPsi. Praveena Salins, M.D., is a pediatrician at Madison Pediatric Associates.