Unity Day: Instagram launches tools to prevent cyberbullying and promote kindness

Social media platforms are a great way of connecting with one another and increasing social engagement. They have helped the world transform into a “global village.” However, there are some disadvantages associated with these platforms, with few of them turning out as a common means of bullying.

A recent national survey of American teens aged between 13 and 17 years revealed that nearly all (94 percent) use social media platforms. Among the respondents, 76 percent used Instagram, making it the most popular app. However, the 2017 Annual Bullying Survey by Ditch the Label, an anti-bullying charity, ranked Instagram as the worst app for cyberbullying among people aged 12 to 25 years, with 42 percent of the users reporting being bullied on it. Moreover, 71 percent respondents agreed that social media platforms lag behind in cyberbullying prevention efforts.

Recognizing the need for greater user safety and to make Instagram a community for positive self-expression, the management launched the following tools in September 2017:

  • Comment controls: Instagram users with public accounts can control who can comment on their posts, from everyone to only specific people. Also, users with public or private accounts can block certain accounts from commenting on their posts.
  • Anonymous reporting for live video: Users can now anonymously report other users whom they think might need mental health resources.
  • Kindness walls and stickers: Users can share photos or videos of kindness walls designated in cities across the world, and promote kindness-themed heart-shaped stickers.

Cyberbullying remains one of the biggest challenges for social media platforms, with children and adolescents at significant risk due to their high social media usage. Across the United States, Unity Day is being observed on Oct. 25, 2017 to remind people to take a stand against bullying and promote safe and supportive schools and communities. This year’s theme focuses on kindness, acceptance and inclusion, all of which Instagram is also advocating.

Instagram aims to be most inclusive community

Marne Levine, Instagram’s COO, emphasizes the app’s focus on kindness and inclusiveness when she says, “Kindness has been in the DNA of Instagram from our earliest days, and as our community grows – now to 800 million – we are working to make Instagram the kindest and most inclusive online community.” Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s CEO and cofounder, had previously affirmed the community’s commitment to promoting a culture “where everyone feels safe to be themselves without criticism or harassment.”

Over the last few months, Instagram has been acting on user feedback to integrate new features into the app to safeguard positive self-expression. In June 2017 it had launched tools for:

  • Blocking abusive language: This filter identifies and blocks offensive comments on posts and live videos.
  • Reducing spam: This filter searches comments for apparent spam and blocks it from posts and live videos.

Cyberbullying can lead to mental disorders

Several studies have established that cyberbullying frequently causes emotional disturbances and a range of mental health issues, such as depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, reduced self-esteem and substance use. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 15.5 percent of high school students (grades nine through 12) were victims of cyberbullying in 2015. However, there are wide variations in the prevalence of cyberbullying among American children and adolescents. A past systematic review showed that these estimates were between 6.5 percent and 35.4 percent.

Cyberbullying needs to be tackled differently than traditional bullying

Although there are significant overlaps between cyberbullying and traditional bullying, cyberbullying has certain distinctive features. Victims of cyberbullying are frequently targeted by perpetrators whose identities remain concealed. Moreover, cyberbullying can take place anywhere and at any time, without any time or space constraints. Victims of cyberbullying are often victims of traditional bullying, which increases the severity of adverse mental health impacts.

Although social media apps are taking steps to increase safety, parents and educators need to play an important role in protecting their children from cyberbullying. Schools need to train students on social media usage and “netiquette” to equip them with skills to navigate the complex digital world. Children should be thoroughly familiarized with blocking techniques and reporting abusive behavior. Parents should monitor their children’s online activities and enforce age-appropriate controls.

Dealing with mental disorders

Constant bullying, whether through digital media or traditional means can increase the risks of developing mental disorders. If you know a teen boy suffering from mental illnesses, White River Academy can help. Located in Delta, Utah, the troubled teen boarding school offers multidisciplinary strategies to promote lasting physical and behavioral health in young men aged between 12 and 17 years. Call at our 24/7 helpline or chat online with one of our experts to know more about the best therapeutic boarding school for boys in the U.S.

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