Bullying and unkindness used to mean educating your children on how to cope at school when coming face to face with playground nastiness, but with 78% of children aged 10-12 now having a social media account, it’s a whole new ball game. And one that’s harder than ever to play.
Social media channels that are supposed to be inclusive and be a place for self-expression and joy – a dreamscape of lives that seem better than the lives we actually live – now have a toxic tinge to them, where it seems freedom of speech has led to a cesspool of trolling. What originally seemed a harmless photo post or status update, are now exposed to be mocked, trolled or shamed.
Interestingly, some areas of Silicon Valley share my worries and Instagram in particular. Their CEO Systrom considers kindness to be a key part of Instagram’s DNA and over the last year has put his time and money behind his claims. With over 700 million users, Instagram has seen a dramatic increase in trolls and their bullying and hateful comments – often spreading like wild fire.
Instagram, like other social media channels, was fast becoming a mean place to be, a million miles away from their original utopias of being the ‘nicest place online’ and ‘bringing the world closer together’. So, quietly just over 12 months ago Instagram began this battle against the trolls. They built a filter to automatically delete specific words and emojis from users’ feeds – deemed to be hateful, racial etc. They gave users the ability to simply turn off commenting. A good start. But more was needed to sort the rubbish from reason online, and more than humans could provide.
Step up Artificial Intelligence (AI). Both Facebook and Instagram have been developing and using AI to help computers interpret language. Their system, DeepText, by deducing meaning from other words around it, not only can block spam, but can identify negative comments. Exciting times.
And whilst computers don’t have emotions, the machines are only as good as the rules built into them and the filers aren’t always perfect – it feels like a step in the right direction. One that gives people the right to say what they think but not the right to be mean, a bully or a troll.
Big brands are waking up to this – trolling is bad for business. I for one am excited by these IT advances and their battle to tame the trolls – for my own sanity and that of my children.
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