Instagram users now have a new tool that could help them prevent harassment in their comment sections. Unveiled to the public in a blog post on Monday, the “keyword moderation” feature allows each user to save a list of words, phrases, and emoji she doesn’t want to see, and the platform will prevent comments containing them from appearing on the user’s posts. Users can also choose to switch on a blanket “hide inappropriate comments” to block comments that include a list of words Instagram has deemed offensive.
Instagram already allows users to delete individual comments on their posts and report obscene or abusive comments on others’ posts. This means the new tool will be most valuable to people whose large Insta audiences make piecemeal moderation unsustainable. (Everyday folks are more likely to have one or a few blockable harassers than a bunch of random people happening upon their feeds and writing one-off insults.) It could also be helpful for non-celebrities who are thrust into the public spotlight for the duration of a single news cycle because of some fast-lived scandal or publicity burst; their feeds might attract thousands of mean-spirited or crude comments in the course of a few days, and they probably wouldn’t have the team or resources to manage them.
Indeed, Instagram has given some celebrities access to this feature for months. During the Kanye West/Kim Kardashian Snapchat receipts debacle of mid-July, Taylor Swift used the keyword moderation tool to weed out Instagram comments that represented her with the snake emoji. Chrissy Teigen posted a photo of her computer screen on Twitter in early August, showing that her Instagram account blocked the words Trump, cleanse, slut, colon, whore, and cunt.
Other users, especially those who style themselves as holistic wellness gurus, would welcome comments about colon cleanses—but maybe Teigen tired of fans asking her how she keeps her lower GI tract squeaky clean. And that’s her right! Some might criticize Instagram for putting the impetus on users to DIY their own abuse protections, but this tool reflects the reality of harassment: It looks different for everyone. Words that read inert to one person can trigger panic attacks in another. I don’t care if an Instagram troll calls me a “city bitch,” because that is an accurate assessment of my habitat and disposition. But if I see anyone posting “#lovewins” or “#loveislove” on a photo of me and my boo, I will hurl my phone at the next Human Rights Campaign bumper sticker I see. Thanks to Instagram, yellow equal signs are safe from my puerile impulses. For now.