A picture might be worth a thousand words in so far as those words don’t involve abuse or intimidation. In the face of mounting criticism for its lack of intervention in countering cyber-bullying, social-media platform Instagram — home to idyllic photographs of envy-inducing lives of perfection — has now introduced features designed to iron away crinkles in the user experience. One of them — an AI-powered prompt to reconsider offensive language — has been rolled out, to what company head Adam Mosseri mentioned in a blog post has been a satisfactory start. Early runs have apparently shown a change of heart in some users. Instagram, and its parent company Facebook Inc., have promised more anti-bullying features, including one called Restrict, which allows users a degree of control over their terms of engagement with their abusers.
As the rise and rise of trolls in the last decade has established, anonymity is a powerful and pliant tool in the hands of cyber bullies. It affords them a virile audacity to wound or maim, disinform or disrupt, without running the risk of detection. In short, it offers them an unchecked playing field for their vitriol. By introducing the prompt, what Instagram has done is to offer a moment of pause to malicious intent, giving both potential abusers and their recipients a redemptive shot at a fuller, less confrontational online experience.
Will this be enough, though, to establish equity in an unequal power dynamics? It seems rather unlikely. Technology has reshaped our social consciousness in ways more startling than any other communication upgrades — including from the oral to the written — have effected. Communication in this age of social media has become manipulative, vying as much for the limelight as for authoritarianism. It’s unlikely that a mere cautionary prompt will be deterrent enough to ebb the flow of toxicity that often passes for social exchange on the web.