Instagram Now Helps You Avoid Making a Fool of Yourself (Unless You Want To)
The best digital wellness tools put us in control
We are in the throes of a technology backlash. Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation that would require software companies to ensure that their software is not engaged in discrimination. The FTC wants to break up the major technology companies. Bold regulatory initiatives like these ultimately may be required to repair the sorry state of the online experience.
But once in a while, technology companies themselves come up with thoughtful solutions. So it is with a new feature that Instagram recently introduced: If you put up a comment similar to one that other users have reported as being problematic, a message appears that asks you to take a moment and rethink whether you really want to post it.
Instagram’s technological fix for offensive comments comes from a bit of A.I. software that monitors the jungle of 95 million photos and messages that users post each day. The software compares each of those to an existing pool of posts that users have flagged as potentially offensive. But rather than designing the algorithm to make the decision to block your post — essentially censorship — Instagram asks you, the user, to think about whether it is a good idea to share this particular sentiment with your followers.
The idea is that the convenience of getting assistance from these algorithms might undermine what is most important about being a human.
In some ways, this is like a classic nudge, a slight reordering of choices that helps people make better decisions. By design, nudges leave the freedom of choice intact. But the Instagram prompt goes beyond a nudge, and this is where it becomes more than just a technological fix. Not only does it let users decide whether to put up a potentially insulting, shaming, or otherwise problematic post, but it also encourages them to reflect on the issue. Such reflection lies at the heart of what philosophers label as autonomy competencies — the ability to reflect on past choices, recognize current options, and consider what might be best in the future.