Instagram's boss says it's not doing enough to catch self-harm images before they are discovered by users

GettyAdam Mosseri, head of Instagram.
  • Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri admitted in an op-ed that Instagram isn’t doing enough to catch images of self-harm and suicide before they reach other users.
  • The article follows the suicide of British teenager Molly Russell, whose family subsequently found she’d been viewing graphic images of self-harm on Instagram.
  • Mosseri is due to meet with UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has warned social media companies that if they fail to regulate themselves, the government will to step in.

Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri has published an op-ed in British newspaper The Daily Telegraph admitting that the social media platform isn’t doing enough to catch images of self-harm and suicide.

Mosseri’s article comes after the story of a teen suicide in the UK put Instagram’s responsibilities to young users in the spotlight.

Molly Russell was 14 when she took her own life in 2017. Following her death, her family found she’d been following numerous Instagram accounts featuring images of self-harm and suicide. The story was uncovered by the BBC.

Mosseri is due to meet with the UK’s health secretary Matt Hancock on Thursday to discuss the problem of self-harm and suicidal imagery on the platform, particularly in relation to underage users.

“The bottom line is we do not yet find enough of these images before they’re seen by other people,” Mosseri wrote in the Telegraph.

He said Instagram launched a comprehensive review last week, and named some changes the platform is making. “We have put in place measures to stop recommending related images, hashtags, accounts, and typeahead suggestions,” writes Mosseri.

The BBC’s investigation found that looking at accounts with sensitive material pertaining to self-harm meant Instagram’s algorithm recommended similar accounts.

Read more: Instagram’s new TV service recommended videos of potential child abuse

Mosseri also said Instagram will this week implement “sensitivity screens” on any content that involves cutting, which means the images won’t be “immediately visible” to other users. He explained why Instagram’s policy is not to automatically remove such content.

“We don’t allow people to promote self-injury, but because of the advice we’ve received, we don’t want to stigmatise mental health by deleting images that reflect the very hard and sensitive issues people are struggling with,” Mosseri said.

“Instead, for images that don’t promote self-harm, we let them stay on the platform, but moving forward we won’t recommend them in search, hashtags or the Explore tab.”

Mosseri’s choice of newspaper is telling. The Telegraph is a paper with a largely conservative readership and is well-read among Conservative politicians. His placement of the op-ed is possibly intended to reassure lawmakers following warnings from Hancock that government will have to step in and legislate if tech companies fail to regulate themselves.

For UK-based readers: If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, you can contact The Samaritans 24/7 on 116 123.

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