Twitter's openness is its strength, and also its weakness: the ease with which new accounts can be created makes it into an amazing tool for free expression, and also a perfect venue for vicious harassment (see also); but Instagram (a division of Facebook, the home of the walled garden) has announced a suite of anti-harassment tools that seem like they'd be compatible with Twitter, raising the obvious question: why hasn't Twitter already deployed them?
Instagram's upcoming toolsuite includes the ability to block words as well as users (if you never want to see another tweet from someone who thinks cuck is a word, for example). They'll also let you block comments on specific posts.
These features sound promising, and I'd certainly welcome them in Twitter-land. But I'm not entirely certain that they'll work. Blocking words has enormous potential for both overblocking (if you filter the word "cuck," you'll miss discussions of how idiotic that word is — not to mention discussions of "cuckoo clocks" and Cliff Stoll's classic memoir of early computer espionage) and underblocking (remember, there are literally 600 quintillion different ways to spell Viagra). This kind of problem isn't new to Twitter or Instagram, and neither are the problems with the "solutions."
But Twitter's openness does offer some interesting variations on these countermeasures that Instagram would have a hard time matching. The relative openness of Twitter's API allows for the creation of collaborative anti-harassment tools that could pool efforts to compile blockable keyword lists.
The network will soon allow users to filter their own comment streams — and, if they wish, completely turn off comments — on their own posts. While Instagram has general policies for what constitutes acceptable speech on its network, different words or phrases are offensive to different people. So this new feature is designed to let users take the mood of their accounts into their own hands and weed out comments that use terms that account holders find personally offensive.
"Our goal is to make Instagram a friendly, fun and, most importantly, safe place for self expression," said Instagram's head of public policy, Nicky Jackson Colaco, in a statement to The Post. "We have slowly begun to offer accounts with high volume comment threads the option to moderate their comment experience. As we learn, we look forward to improving the comment experience for our broader community."
Instagram will soon let you filter comments on your own account
[Hayley Tsukayama/Washington Post]