The world wide web has space for everyone—a unique proposition that makes it a blessing and a curse, both at once. The anonymity afforded by the internet means that it can unfortunately also serve as a toxic breeding ground that is manifested in several forms—from hateful and inflammatory comments to exposure to unsolicited content. The problem becomes more acute with the sharp spike in younger users—studies have discovered that 85 per cent of teenagers under the age of 17 possess at least one social media account—who might be more vulnerable to and require additional assistance with sensitive matters, such as bullying and body shaming. Acknowledging their responsibility towards their users, here are the features, measures and initiatives introduced by social media platforms that attempt to combat some of these concerns.
Ban on body shaming
In a bid to create a kinder environment for netizens, online apps have also been cracking down on hateful comments—with dating apps targeting negative comments related to appearance. “We have updated our terms and conditions to explicitly ban unsolicited and derogatory comments made about someone’s appearance, body shape, size or health. This includes language that can be deemed fat-phobic, ableist, racist, colourist, homophobic or transphobic,” says Priti Joshi, vice president of strategy at Bumble. The women-first app has actioned automated safeguards to detect comments and images that go against guidelines, terms and conditions, which can then be escalated to a human moderator to review. The consequences range from an initial warning for inappropriate behaviour and can be escalated to a permanent ban from the app in case of repeated incidents of harmful comments.
Shielding unwanted content
Even as online dating becomes the new normal in the pandemic era, finding that person can be a matter of trial and error. And along the journey, women often discover the need to shield themselves against exposure to unsolicited content of an offensive nature. Taking cognisance of the matter, platforms such as Bumble have beefed up their security. “Our artificial intelligence-based Private Detector is able to capture, blur and alert users that they’ve been sent an unsolicited nude image. It’s then the user’s choice to either delete, view or report the image,” she adds.
As the internet became a critical space for learning during the pandemic, social media apps have also recognised the need to create a safe space for children. “We have launched an updated Parents Guide which details all the tools and features to keep our community safe as well as tips for parents to start conversations with their children about their digital identities,” says Tara Bedi, public policy and community outreach manager for Instagram and Facebook India. The guide was further contextualised with cues from a host of partners—including Center for Social Research, Aarambh India Initiative, Young Leaders for Active Citizenship, ‘It’s Ok To Talk’, CyberPeace Foundation and Suicide Prevention India Foundation—to offer deeper insights and resources for mental and emotional support for younger users in India.
Promoting meaningful conversations
In addition to cracking down on harmful content, there is also active work being put in to ensure that social media apps remain a safe space for meaningful conversations. While there is no age limit to sign up, social platforms have been proactively finding newer ways to reach out to their younger audience. “We’re engaging with young people across the country through programs, like the ‘Counter Speech Fellowship’ and ‘366 Days of Kindness’. These programs encourage the use of visual storytelling to have meaningful conversations on topics like bullying and body positivity and encourage empathy and kindness on the platform,” Bedi adds.
Among other concerns while dating online, privacy remains a top priority for Indian women. Since its advent in the country in late 2018, Bumble has introduced a host of new features catering to the needs of Indian women. “As a geographic-specific feature for our community in India, a woman can use only the first initial of her name to create her profile. Whenever she is ready and comfortable to share her full name with connections, she can—but until then, her identity is protected,” explains Joshi. By offering the additional layer of privacy, women can safeguard their profiles and ensure that they aren’t found on other platforms by those whom they don’t wish to connect with.
Resources for digital safety
With more apps adopting a zero-tolerance policy on harassment, help appears in the form of guided resources to ensure that netizens are able to recognise and protect themselves. Red Dot Foundation’s public safety platform, Safecity, has tied up with Bumble to equip women with crucial information to recognise, prevent and combat rising digital abuse and harassment. “The safety guide is aimed at equipping women to understand and recognise online harassment, suggestions on how to tackle difficult situations as well as resources available to prevent and combat digital abuse,” says Joshi.
The anonymity of the internet has often been linked with a spike in cyber-bullying, but platforms are working on taking back control. Twitter reports that 50 per cent of abusive content is identified proactively for human review, instead of relying on reports from people using the service. This has been accompanied by a host of conversational controls to shield users from interacting with offensive users or content. “Since August 2020, we’ve seen more than 15 million tweets created with conversational controls—such as new settings to give people control over who can reply to their tweet. During the testing phase, we learned this setting helped people feel safer and facilitate more meaningful conversations, while still allowing people to see different points of view,” says a spokesperson for Twitter.
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