Instagram responds to teen death with ‘sensitivity’ safety tool

by Samuel Abasi Posted on February 6th, 2019

Instagram has announced changes to its platform that will hide graphic images of self-harm and suicide, in light of the death of a British teenager.

Her parents believe Molly Russell, 14, killed herself after being exposed to graphic images on Instagram and Pinterest. In response, Instagram on Tuesday announced a “sensitivity screen” to blur such imagery.

Instagram already prohibits posts that encourage suicide or self-harm but relies on the community report the content, Instagram boss Adam Mosseri said. That includes images of cutting.

“I am deeply moved by the tragic stories that have come to light this past month of Molly Russell and other families affected by suicide and self-harm,” Mosseri said in an op-ed in The Telegraph. “Even as a parent, I cannot begin to imagine what these families are going through and my thoughts go out to them.”

He said “engineers and trained content reviewers” are working to make it harder for people to find self-harm images.

Instagram and parent company Facebook face increased pressure from the British government to be more proactive at protecting children. Suicide is the leading cause of death for young people under 20 years old, especially for teenage girls.

“It is appalling how easy it still is to access this content online and I am in no doubt about the harm this material can cause, especially for young people,” British health secretary Matt Hancock said. “It is time for internet and social media providers to step up and purge this content once and for all.”

Mosseri, who will meet with Hancock this week to talk about the issue, said Instagram is committed to “better support people who post images indicating they might be struggling with self-harm or suicide.”

Instagram searches for troublesome hashtags and connects people with help resources, like Papyrus or Samaritans.

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