Instagram Expands Policy on Banning Self-Harm Content

Laura BednarCyber Bullying and Online Harassment

Instagram Harmful Content Ban

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Cracking Down on Content

Instagram has faced widened public scrutiny and government pressure since the suicide of 14-year-old Molly Russell in 2017. The young public-school student killed herself after viewing suicide content on Instagram. Her parents later talked with the BBC about the tragedy.

The company has already clamped down on self-harm content this year. In February, they prohibited graphic depictions of self-harm such as cutting, and restricted access to non-graphic representations of self-harm like healed wounds by not recommending them in searches.

Instagram has also toyed with the idea of using blurred screens for non-graphic self-harm images. Its new policy takes things a step further by prohibiting fictional representations of self-harm or self-harm in general.

As Mosseri explained in a recent public announcement, “This past month, we further expanded our policies to prohibit more types of self-harm and suicide content. We will no longer allow fictional depictions of self-harm or suicide on Instagram, such as drawings or memes or content from films or comics that use graphic imagery.”

The site has doubled its efforts to remove self-harm imagery since the February policy change, restricting access to or eliminating more than 834,000 pieces of content.

Insta-Worthy or Dangerous?

It remains unclear when the company will begin enforcing the new policy, and Mosseri remains abstract about the timetable. He said, “We aim to strike the difficult balance between allowing people to share their mental health experiences while also protecting others from being exposed to potentially harmful content.” Mosseri added that Instagram’s choices had been made after consulting with professionals and advocacy groups for the mentally ill.

The move remains somewhat controversial, however. For example, psychologist April C. Foreman, who sits on the board of the American Association of Suicidology, objected that there was no substantial research indicating that restricting images of self-harm would reduce suicide rates. She maintained that policies like Instagram’s new rules were more of a face-saving gesture in the midst of a “moral panic.”

“We’re doing things that feel good and look good instead of doing things that are effective,” the mental health professional said. “It’s more about making a statement about suicide than doing something that we know will help the rates.”

Other mental health professionals disagreed. For instance, Lindsey Giller, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute in New York, noted that if someone had already formed ideas of self-harm or started to harm themselves, seeing self-harm pictures could certainly be triggering.

Some legal scholars have objected that such bans constitute a step away from freedom of speech. Mason Marks, a legal scholar who has investigated social media bans of this sort, says less censorship would reduce the stigma against self-harm.

“What does this say about people who are engaging in that kind of behavior? It sends the message that this is something bad that we shouldn’t be talking about,” Marks said. “We should talk about it more openly.”

Keeping Social Media Safe

Social media platforms allow people to share their experiences online, but other times these sites are used in a negative way. The certified examiners at Secure Forensics can analyze any type of media in the event you need digital forensics. Our services include proving the act of cyberbullying, including harassment or cyber stalking. If you are the victim of cyberbullying, call us at 1-800-288-1407 to see how we can help.