In recent times Instagram has been hitting the headlines for its numerous decisions to ban specific hashtags on the grounds of their delivering inappropriate content and then inexplicably revoking the ban after users made a fuss. Even after a number of such incidents, it is not too clear as to what content policing policies Instagram has, the extent to which hashtag bans have worked, and the degree of alienation of its users resulting from such actions.
Not Such an Easy Task
Social media policing is by no means a task that is easy because users have the unfettered liberty to post whatever they want and too without any fear of consequence. When other users report any content to be offensive or inappropriate, it can at maximum be removed by the social media platform but it is close to impossible for the platforms themselves to monitor each and every post to see whether it violates their content guidelines. For Instagram, the problem is especially great because it has grown exponentially since inception, and its number of active users per month has crossed 500 million who post billions of photographs, many of which may have inappropriate content cleverly disguised with hashtags that seem extremely ordinary.
For example, Instagram had to ban #EDM that stood for electronic dance music as well as #curvy because of a large number of posts that had content that was pornographic. However, it does not seem that this type of content violations will cease because most of them emanate from users who have only the generation of spam as a mission. Thus, it does not seem likely that the attempt of Instagram to crack down on these spammers will make a difference to the scheme of things in the long run.
Instagram’s Hashtag Blocking Practice
Instagram has gone on record that it has a practice of blocking specific hashtags so that they cannot be searched, and this is done “when they are consistently being used to share images and videos that violate their community guidelines.” The community guidelines of this vastly popular photo sharing social media platform have rules that prohibit photos from containing nudity and permit the platform to remove them as well as posts that have hate speech or threats that can be considered as credible.
Thereafter, Instagram has also added fresh guidelines to control posts that are intended to encourage self-harm and gone on to ban hashtags of the likes of #proanorexia and #thinspiration that have been deemed to be endorsing eating disorders. The company advises Instagram followersto report posts that are in violation of its content guidelines as well as block the users and remove any comments that they deem as questionable from any of their own posts.
The Need for Better Communication
The outcry arising from users regarding hashtag bans prompted Instagram to quickly reverse their decisions and unblock #EDM and #curvy. The company issued a statement that said that it was evolving “ways to more quickly restore certain hashtags that have been previously blocked,” as well as “ways to better communicate our policies around hashtags.”
According to social media experts, Instagram should not be so much worried about just wayward user behavior, but more about spammers who use valid hashtags to hack into social media conversations; knowing that many people would see the offensive content because of the popularity of the hashtag involved. This tendency of spammers is not a new phenomenon; spammers have been following popular events and then using the associated hashtags to their own end. It is quite evident that nothing much can be done to thwart the misuse simply because sites with inappropriate content abound and the creativity of spammers is endless – banning hashtags, as a long-term, strategy, seems to be completely impractical, despite using advanced filters. There is also the issue of users becoming worked up because of their perception of Instagram butting in and telling them of what to do and not to do.
It is a difficult tightrope walk for Instagram trying to monitor the user-generated content and moderate it according to what it perceives as being appropriate. The effort that it takes for to ban specific hashtags is clearly unworkable in the long run because of the huge volumes involved and especially when spammers are constantly hijacking hashtags that are otherwise quite innocent. There is also the issue of transparency of content and policing guidelines that users expect from Instagram, in the absence of which there can only be confusion and revolt, which is not conducive to promoting user satisfaction and loyalty. Instagram will need to learn to stay ahead of the curve, even though it will find it a very difficult task indeed.
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