It turns out that a “sensitivity screen” wouldn’t enough after all. In reviewing the role it may have played in a recent teen suicide, Instagram has reportedly thought of putting a blurry block on top of graphic images of self-harm and suicide. But given the complexity of balancing equally valid concerns, Instagram is setting its foot down on a simpler solution. Graphic self-harm photos are out. Non-graphic ones are allowed but you’d be hard-pressed to find them.
Instagram was accused of facilitating the suicide of 14-year-old Molly Russell in 2017 when it was discovered the teen came across disturbing images of self-harm on the social network. At first, Instagram considered simply putting up a “sensitivity screen” to hide such content until the user agrees to tap or click on it. It may still use that in the future, but only for a narrow set of cases it will allow.
Instagram and parent company Facebook consulted experts on a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, there is a potential for these images to promote self-harm and traumatize people. On the other hand, it could provide struggling people with an outlet that could even end up saving their lives. Collectively, however, these experts concluded that it would do more harm than good.
So Instagram will now disallow all graphic photos of self-harm or, worse, suicide, whether they are promoting the act or even trying to reach out for attention and help. It will, however, allow non-graphic photos, like healing of wounds, but with one caveat: they won’t be shown in searches, hashtags, or the Explore tab. In the future, it might even implement that sensitivity screen on top of those.
Instagram, however, makes a disclaimer that it might not get everything right immediately, so don’t expect a perfect implementation. It also promises to continue consulting with experts to improve its approach. It may be just promises to some, but at a time when social network abuse their influence left and right, it offers some comfort that they’re at least trying to fix their errors as well.