Instagram has announced it will begin banning people who send racist abuse to others through direct messages (DMs) following complaints the company was not doing enough with its previous tactic of enforcing a time-out.
Among recent targets of online racist abuse is Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, who decided not to share screenshots of the messages “as it would be irresponsible to do so”, but described the messages as “humanity and social media at its worst”.
“Yes, I’m a black man and I live every day proud that I am. No one, or no one comment, is going to make me feel any different. So sorry if you were looking for a strong reaction, you’re just simply not going to get it here,” Rashford added.
At the time Facebook, which owns Instagram, removed the offending account but admitted there was “more to do” to defeat racism in posts and comments.
The announcement follows racist abuse targeted at Chelsea defender Reece James, West Brom’s Romaine Sawyers and fellow Manchester United duo Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial, prompting the FA to reiterate its commitment to clamping down on discrimination of all kinds.
In a statement on Wednesday, Instagram acknowledged “racist online abuse targeted at footballers in the UK” and said: “We don’t want this behaviour on Instagram.”
“The abuse we’re seeing is happening a lot in people’s Direct Messages (DMs), which is harder to address than comments on Instagram,” the company said.
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It added that the private conversations in DMs aren’t monitored by the same technologies used to proactively detect content like hate speech or bullying elsewhere.
“But there are still more steps we can take to help prevent this type of behaviour. So today we’re announcing some new measures, including removing the accounts of people who send abusive messages, and developing new controls to help reduce the abuse people see in their DMs.”
Instagram added that it will respond to valid legal requests for information from police in cases of racist abuse, but would “push back if they’re too broad, inconsistent with human rights, or not legally valid”.
Analysis: Undoubtedly a response to pressure By Martha Kellner, sports correspondent
This announcement by Instagram is undoubtedly a response to growing pressure on social media companies to tackle the mushrooming problem of abuse online.
Over the past ten days several high profile athletes, not least Marcus Rashford, have revealed they’ve been the victims of racist abuse, directed towards them publicly or via direct message.
I spoke to Micah Richards, the pundit and former footballer, who was outraged by what he perceived as a lack of action from social media firms particularly to protect young players from racism online.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is showing an awareness that change is needed but there will almost certainly be demands on them and other platforms to do more.
There had been calls to remove anonymity on social media platforms by requiring proof of identity to set up a new account but others have pointed out that could have a detrimental affect on repressed populations – such as LGBT people in certain countries – who use social media to create a community and improve awareness of their plight and require anonymity to do so.