Instagram is integrating a new feature designed to tackle issues of self-harm and suicide. The update enables users and Instagram staff to offer help when users show signs of mental or physical abuse or issues. This new function is another step taken by Instagram towards mediating their platform.

Social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are continuously growing. They are all based on exchange and communication, users share content and interact with each other. This can result in fruitful conversations and friendly engagement. However, the unmediated online networks have been experiencing the opposite: shit-storms occur regularly, insults and harassment are reported on a regular basis. Another serious problem that has not been addressed enough is that of self-harm and mental problems users can be suffering from. Instagram launched a new function to aid users that are in need of help and support. This new function is simple but effective way of targeting this serious matter. Regarding the large amount of teenage and young adult users, who are especially prone to issues of mental health, the new function seems even more appropriate and necessary. But also for other users this update is a great way to receive help or offer it to other users.

How to offer Help

When a user comes across a post that indicates the other user is experiencing difficulties and indicating or openly speaking about any kind of self-harm or even suicide, the user is able to flag this post anonymously. A special team working for Instagram receives all the flags and reviews them. If they agree that the user is in need of help, a message is sent to them offering help. The user who receives the message can choose one of three options: messaging or calling a friend, contact a helpline or view tips and support to deal with their situation. The same message will automatically be sent to a user who either searched for hashtags or content connected to self-harm or suicide or even used them in one of their own posts. Though lots of hashtags regarding these subjects are banned, some are still available that indicate a personal problem that should be addressed. An example of this is the hashtag #thinspo that is linked to eating disorders.

“These tools are designed to let you know that you are surrounded by a community that cares about you, at a moment when you might most need that reminder.”  

                                                                                                       - Instagram Chief Operating Officer Marne Levine                                                                                                                                                                                       

Instagram Fighting the Dangers of the Social Web

At first glance, the new feature is just another one in a series of updates that Instagram has gone through this year. When taking a closer look it becomes obvious that Instagram is not just optimizing the app itself but also playing close attention to potential dangers of social media. In September, Instagram launched the key-word filter which enables users to hide negative comments. After setting key words in the account’s settings, new comments containing those key words will automatically be invisible. The key-word filter and the new update are great examples of simple but effective tools that protect users. Instagram’s parent company Facebook has already implemented a feature that allows users and Facebook staff to message users when they believe self-harm is an issue. In fact, Instagram’s new feature is quite similar to the one Facebook uses, once again proving the powerful ways in which Facebook influences other networks or companies it is connected to.

The new feature is designed to provide easy help to those who need it. Enabling users to anonymously flag potentially worrying content makes it easier for users to help each other. If users are concerned about friends, they might not know how to address them correctly or are unsure which kind of help might be useful. As Instagram also connects people who know each other barely or not at all, anonymous flags are even more important. Addressing someone you do not know in person or not well enough can be even harder. Therefore, drawing attention to this kind of content using a third-party is very valuable. Instagram is trying to raise awareness for multiple issues, one of them being eating disorders. This is why the National Eating Disorder Association in the United States played a great role in the development of the new feature. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline of the United States was another important contributor, among over forty other organizations.

Make sure to use this great new feature, in case you feel like someone on Instagram is in danger of self-harm or is experiencing problems of any kind. Reaching out and offering them help can make a great difference! If they are in immediate danger of physical abuse or self-harm, please contact the authorities.