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Sort of Starving the Trolls

I read about something interesting in a recent Clover newsletter, but I haven’t been able to find this information anywhere else online.  So I’m turning to you, Instagram users, to tell me if it’s true, and everyone else to ask what you think.

So Clover states about Instagram:

The platform—which is no stranger to hate speech—created a tool that uses AI to flag abuse. It’ll remove mean comments without notifying the trolls themselves (so the content will still show on their feed, but nobody else’s). The goal is to “foster kind, inclusive communities.”

I am a very inactive Instagram user. I have never posted a picture, and I only follow my niece, sister, and sister-in-law.  (You never miss a post if you only follow three people!)  So I’ve never seen hate comments on Instagram.  Everywhere else on the Internet, yes, but I’m on Instagram infrequently and have never received a comment since I have posted zero images.

So… is this true?  Clover makes it sound like flagging abuse (or AI flagging abuse) will stop the comment from showing up in anyone else’s feed, but the troll will have no idea.  They’ll think their comments are still hanging around, but no one will actually be seeing them.

And if it is true… I don’t know.  I mean, I could see this helpful in the case of certain individuals who are purposefully trying to press buttons.  But in the case of people who say one bone-headed thing?  How will they learn what not to say if no one actually calls them on it?  Plus, it sounds like a really cowardly way of dealing with hate speech.  Clover is stating that Instagram is going to pretend the content is still up but SURPRISE it’s actually not posted anywhere but the troll’s feed?

And, moreover, what may be a horrible comment to one person may not be a horrible comment to someone else.  There is a big difference between Clover’s “mean comment” and actual hate speech or threats (direct or indirect).  Someone could leave a comment on this post stating, “this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read!” (And I’m sure someone will now do that because I’ve written that example.)  That is a mean comment.  According to Clover, if someone left a comment like that on Instagram, I could flag it (or an AI could flag it) and no one would be able to see it except the person who left the comment.  And the person would never know and would be ten times more likely to do it again in the future.

Not really sure how I feel about this feature if it exists, or if Clover got it totally wrong.


1 Cristy { 07.02.17 at 9:20 am }

BnB were just talking about trolls and negative commentary in the online environment, prompted by this article: http://www.chronicle.com/article/It-s-a-Dangerous-Business/240336

The summary is that I the belief of anonymity tends to bring out the worst in some people. And what feeds that power is feedback, even if negative. I completely see your point with learning, but if someone isn’t actually facing the person they attacked, I wonder if learning actually occurs when they are called out?

Years ago, I got a scathing student evaluation. The student asked for an extra level of anonymity by having it typed by the department secretary, but it didn’t take long to figure out who this student was. 6 months later, this same student approached me for a letter of recommendation for her application for Teach for America. It was only in the moments when the other faculty pulled her aside and had a conversation about the impact of her actions did she finally learn and even then there was a lot of protest (she truly thought I owed her a good recommendation). So I’m sadly a bit jaded with people with the anonymity format, especially when it comes to trolls.

2 torthuil { 07.02.17 at 10:36 am }

I agree with Christy: anonymity breeds nastiness. But what you describe is anonymous, unaccountable censorship,so just as bad. I was about to say I would never support any social media platform that does this, but I’m pretty sure Facebook does. Whatever, I’ll never support ANOTHER one. Everything I’ve experienced about culture and personal responsibility, online and off, tells me these methods will not work and people will be just as nasty as before or worse.

3 Working mom of 2 { 07.02.17 at 10:49 am }

I guess it depends on how the AI works. “Stupidest thing” would be silly to “block” but comments made by the typical deplorable are ripe. But I think the setup where the offender still thinks they’re up is lame.

4 Jenn P { 07.02.17 at 8:15 pm }

That doesn’t make sense at all. Why wouldn’t we want to let people know their comments are not appreciated? Isn’t that how our society works? If a page posts something that is removed, they are notified and penalized. If you say the word dyke on facebook, your post gets removed automatically, which is ridiculous to assume it is hate speech.

5 Amanda { 07.02.17 at 8:15 pm }

I think it’s a good idea although I agree with the points you listed. I think it’s very important not to “feed the trolls” and by blocking the comments it will deny the trolls the satisfaction of people ingauging with the. No fights.

6 Mali { 07.03.17 at 1:53 am }

I also think it’s weird that the troll would still think their nasty comments were there. It would be much better if they received a warning, and then were banned after a certain number of warnings.

I’m only new to Instagram, and only following people I know and trust, so I don’t imagine I’ll see any of the nasty stuff. …

7 B { 07.03.17 at 10:47 pm }

I’m ambivalent…

The best case scenario for a productive discussion is a closely moderated forum run by someone with an patient mind, a diligent responsiveness, and a firm yet kind voice. Something like, for example, oh, I don’t know… Stirr… up… Queens?

So ideally we need more of this. But that’s labour intensive and kind of niche. Out there in the wild west of huge public platforms like Instagram I think we need to play a little quicker and dirtier with the rules, and honestly I don’t mind this approach because even the feedback that “your comment was removed” is encouraging (or to be fair I should say angering or attention-drawing) to a lot of trolls (or to be fair I should say misguided commenters).

In fact the new instagram approach mirrors real life more closely, where clunker comments are most often politely ignored and/or the conversation smoothed around them. People have to learn about their mistakes in private spaces from close friends and family. It’s not a perfect system (some people don’t have a good set of close friends and family) but at least it keeps things publicly civil.

Maybe what this lacks is something to make up for those who don’t have good quality, private spaces for correction. Maybe instagram should also add an Agony Instagram series which aims to discuss the finer points of internet etiquette (without singling out specific threads). Maybe we need to learn to cut each other a break and start with the assumption that the person who made the gaff isn’t evil, but at worst ignorant (and maybe it’s actually us that’s misunderstood).

I do know that things out there need to improve and it seems like this isn’t a bad experiment. It’s good that it’s only one platform until we see how well it works out.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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