Well-being teams, social media & us

Within Instagram, there is a “well-being team” that’s just focused on fighting harassment and bullying as stated by co-founder and CTO of Instagram, Mike Krieger in The Players’ Tribune interview with Harrison Barnes.

According to Statista, in 2017, 81 percent of the population in the United States had a social networking profile, representing a three percent growth compared to the previous year. According to estimates, the number of worldwide social media users reached 2.34 billion and is expected to grow to some 2.95 billion by 2020. With this rapid growth of social media,  spending hours in social networking sites has become an integral part of our daily lives.

Having a “well-being team” focused on fighting harassment and bullying is laudable but companies have to do a lot more. A new, nationally representative Pew Research Center survey of 4,248 U.S. adults finds that 41% of Americans have been personally subjected to harassing behavior online, and an even larger share (66%) has witnessed these behaviors directed at others. With so much of our lives spent in social media sites of one form or another, companies have to proactively monitor, assess and take swift actions to minimize harassment and bullying.

Is machine learning enough to counter harassment and bullying over social media? Mike Krieger of Instagram stated in the interview that “they have been doing things like training our machine learning algorithm to try to detect bullying and harassment in comments and then make those comments go away.” Responsibility of “adapting” to social media falls on all of us-parents, teachers, friends, family members, policy makers-anyone who is directly or indirectly affected by social media. In my opinion, the bigger responsibility falls on shoulders of social media giants mainly Facebook who created a product that brings billions together daily. Social media companies should also publish reports and data on how they are countering harassment and bullying over their respective platforms. Parents will increasingly need to be digitally aware and teachers to be vigilant more than ever of their students’ behavior in and out of the classroom. StopBullying.gov is a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is a great resource to learn from and share with others regarding the matter.

With so much user generated content, is machine learning the only answer we have to counter online harassment? Can we leave this ever important challenge to a handful of companies alone who might have a “well-being team” to save us? Or should we first go back to the fundamentals where we treated each other with respect and love whatever our differences (color, height, weight, sex etc) and then enter into the social media world? The need to frequently discuss the benefits of social media and its challenges is greatly upon us.