According to data from January 2023, more than half of Instagram’s worldwide users are under the age of 34 (We Are Social et al., 2023). Lorenz (2018) also pointed out that Instagram is more popular among teenagers compared to other social media since they utilize it as a channel for making friends, chatting, and discussing together.
Nevertheless, as of April 2018, 35% of American teenagers stated that their low social satisfaction as a consequence of online bullying (Common Sense Media, 2018). Due to Instagram allowing users to register multiple anonymous accounts, teenagers can easily evade parental and teacher supervision by using these accounts for online bullying or posting malicious comments (Lorenz, 2018).
Throughout the various content on media platforms, not only malicious speech attacks, but also negative content such as fake news, terrorism, and pornography still exist. As can be observed that the self-regulation of the platform needs to be continuously carried out and improved. This may raise the question of whether platforms such as Instagram can continue to provide users with enough or even more freedom of speech under strict regulation? This blog will examine the reasons for self-regulation, how platforms can conduct self-regulation while protecting users’ freedom of speech, and the benefits and challenges of platform self-regulation.
Why is self-governance necessary?
Moderate platform governance is essential due to the fact that it deeply and directly affects the public’s sense of experience and the sustainable development of the platform itself. Governance and platform data, algorithms, and other elements are all cores. In addition, because of the content and commercial advertisements created by thousands of users, the self-governance of the platform is particularly important (Gillespie, 2018). Effective management may to some extent ensure the security of each user during use and the protection of privacy data, effectively preventing illegal and offensive content from harming others. This is very important for young users and some vulnerable groups like LGBTQ. Self-governance is beneficial for establishing healthy and harmonious communities, encouraging interaction among people from different backgrounds, religions, and races. This also enhances the sense of unity and belonging among people. From the perspective of content quality, if a platform lacks high quality and authenticity of content, users will gradually reduce their usage and lose trust in it. On the other side, the reputation of the platform itself and profit channels such as advertising will also be negatively affected.
How Platforms Self regulate and Freedom of Speech
Godwin (2003) highlighted that people in the cyberspace frequently have more power. Compared to societies where speech is restricted, it is better for everyone to be able to freely express themselves. Instagram demonstrates that limiting undesirable content such as hate speech may encourage people to share themselves more actively on the platform. It aspires to continually improve the platform environment in order to make individuals feel more liberated. Its new feature can identify and prevent the appearance of aggressive comments.
Kevin Systrom, the CEO of Instagram, believes that the most important thing in the face of negative information and speech in the internet environment is not to directly restrict people’s right to freedom of speech, but to maximize the improvement of issues such as online bullying (Blakely & Balaish, 2017). Without a doubt, exchanging ideas and opinions is everyone’s right, thus everyone should have freedom of expression, yet everyone has to be responsible for their abuse of freedom.
Instagram’s Community Guidelines
Instagram’s goal is to establish a safe and authentic platform where people are able to share freely. It seeks to provide a diverse and open online environment for its user base that is not constrained by age, cultural background, or beliefs. As a result, Instagram created a community guidelines to ensure platform security. It encourages users to respect intellectual property rights and to only publish original content created by themselves. It is not permitted to copy or republish the material of others. Content containing serious threats, hate speech, insults, extortion, or harassment of others is going to be forced deleted under the platform’s supervision. The platform motivates users to help each other and care for other people. However, content that causes harm to oneself, such as self-harm and suicide, will be removed by the platform. Due to the dense user base, events with news value may be noticed and disseminated in a short period of time. Therefore, some scenes of intense conflict or bloody violence will be prohibited by the platform. If users do not comply with these community guidelines, content will be deleted, accounts may also be blocked, or they may face additional punishments (Community Guidelines, n.d.).
In summary, issues such as gender discrimination, terrorism, and fake news are issues that social media platforms need to constantly reflect on and address. Freedom of speech is not absolute freedom for people. People have to take responsibility for all content they publish, and media platforms such as Instagram also need to efficiently self-regulate and review all content to ensure that the public is not threatened.
Challenges: Platform self-regulation and commercial interests
Douglas Rushkoff, a professional writer, public speaker, and critic in the field of social media, mentioned that such decisions as self-regulation and limiting harmful speech not only lay the foundation for creating a good internet environment, but also are closely related to business interests (Blakely & Balaish, 2017). The content presented by a platform typically represents the values of it and its users. It needs to demonstrate its position through self-regulation, namely what is positive, acceptable, and what is negative and should be prohibited. Only in this way can we attract more users and advertisers (Gillespie, 2018). Furthermore, self-regulation can prevent advertisements from appearing on the same page as harmful content, thereby enhancing the trust of advertisers, as well as increasing the amount of advertising on the platform.
Instagram’s business plan is to monetize its data and profit from it through posts and interactions between users (Blakely & Balaish, 2017). Therefore, for media platforms themselves, if users’ content is excessively restricted, people’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors will not only be constrained, but may also lead to users’ doubts about platform censorship, then even reduce the use of media platforms. Platforms may also frequently face malicious reporting and other behaviors from individuals, leading to unnecessary restrictions and forced removal of certain content. These challenges can lead to controversy and dissatisfaction, thereby reducing platform profits.
It can be seen that the self-regulation of the platforms should balance users’ freedom of speech with commercial interests and needs. They should ensure that the review policy is clear and transparent, that is, to present the specific content and process of the review to the public, so that people can understand what content is encouraged to be published, and what content should be prohibited in a timely manner. In short, user satisfaction and security need to be taken into account in order to provide the public with more freedom to express themselves.
In conclusion, protecting users’ right to freedom of speech and platform self-regulation are crucial for modern media platforms. On the one hand, social media such as Instagram should strictly scrutinize content such as negative comments, false news, terrorism, and pornography on the platform. This behavior not only protects users from threats, but also allows users, including some commercial companies, to trust the platform more and encourage people to actively participate in interaction and communication. From another perspective, freedom of speech is not unlimited freedom for users. They need to have a strong sense of self-discipline and publish content that is positive and helpful to society and even the world. In the future, all platforms like Instagram may still provide enough or even more space for freedom of speech under strict self-regulation, but they need to continuously improve their technology to reduce false positives in censorship, improve accuracy and transparency.
Blakely, J., & Balaish, T. (2017, August 14). Is Instagram going too far to protect our feelings? CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/inside-instagram/
Common Sense Media. (2018, September 10). Negative social media effects according to teenagers in the United States as of April 2018, by emotional well-being. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/934121/negative-social-media-effects-usa-teenagers-emotional-well-being/
Community Guidelines. (n.d.). Instagram Help Centre. Retrieved September 23, 2023, from https://help.instagram.com/477434105621119/?helpref=uf_share
Gillespie, T. (2018). All Platforms Moderate. In Custodians of the Internet : Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions That Shape Social Media (pp. 1–23). Yale University Press. https://doi.org/10.12987/9780300235029
Godwin, M. (2003). A New Frontier for Free Speech and Society. In Cyber Rights: Defending Free speech in the Digital Age (pp. 1–23). MIT Press. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=_eQPbYnJ1Q0C&pg=PA1&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false
Lorenz, T. (2018, October 10). Teens Are Being Bullied “Constantly” on Instagram. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/10/teens-face-relentless-bullying-instagram/572164/
We Are Social, DataReportal, & Meltwater. (2023, January 26). Distribution of Instagram users worldwide as of January 2023, by age and gender. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/248769/age-distribution-of-worldwide-instagram-users/
Wikipedia. (2019, September 14). Kevin Systrom. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_SystromWikipedia. (2023, September 21). Douglas Rushkoff. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Rushkoff