While the disappearance of literally thousands of snake emoji from Taylor Swift's Instagram account prompted speculation about such a tool in July, the social media company is now offering comment moderation to everyone via a customizable keyword filter.
In addition to existing options that let users block accounts, report content or choose to have a private profile, Instagram hopes the tool will help keep Instagram a positive place and let users choose what's acceptable.
Made available Monday in Instagram's settings under "Comments," the tool offers users a "hide inappropriate comments" option. If you toggle it on, the app will block a pre-selected set of offensive words chosen by the company. Users can also customize a list of keywords they don't want to see.
Mia Garlick, Facebook's director of public policy in Australia and New Zealand, said she couldn't reveal the words selected by Instagram for its default list, although she added the company has become pretty good at knowing which words are likely to offend.
Instagram doesn't want to reveal the words because it fears persistent users will figure out how to get around the filter. "Part of the challenge of things like this is you don't want to empower the bad actors with additional knowledge," she told Mashable.
The argument makes sense, but for some it may be ethically troublesome to let a company decide which words are right for you. Not to mention, the tool could allow public-facing accounts, such as those run for politicians or companies, to filter words that simply aren't friendly to their brand rather than abusive.
The person posting a comment using a filtered word will still see their comment appear, however. It just won't be visible to the user. "The person who posted will see it, so they'll feel like 'Hey I've been able to yell,' but you'll be protected," she added.
Words selected will also block hashtags of that same word, so there's no need to double up in your list. Emoji can also be blocked. That's something Rachel Roy may have appreciated after Beyoncé's "Becky with good hair" lyric saw her profile flooded with the bee emoji.
At this stage, Garlick said Instagram has no plans to turn the filter on by default. "At the moment, we want it to be there as an option for people who want that additional sense of control," she said. "Some people may have friends who use 'creative' language, and that's OK with them. We don't want to restrict friends who have colorful ways of interacting with each other."
For the moment, the filter does not affect language used in direct messages. Nor does it censor language used in replies to Instagram stories. It is also only usable in languages that have spaces between words, which means a number of Asian languages are not yet
That's different when it comes to users with a significant public profile. After a war of words with the Chinese swimmer Sun Yang, for example, Australian Olympian Mack Horton's account was absolutely deluged with snake emoji and insults. Not long after, his comment section was turned off and appears to have remained off.
That's presumably preferable to such users signing off all together. Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley left the service in August, prompting speculation she quit after a post about gun violence provoked a stream of abuse.
New moderation tools are part of a wider strategy the company uses to manage its high-profile or celebrity users (and presumably keep them happy and on Instagram). "We have a team that works with public figures, so that's a two-way street in terms of conversations," Garlick added.
The comment moderation tool was also tested on a number of high volume accounts (hey, Tay), but it's now being rolled out for all.
Soon those more than 300 million active users who are on Instagram every day will have to mind their manners.