Instagram is working on a way to protect users from receiving unsolicited nude photos in their DMs. Instagram’s parent company, Meta, confirmed to The Verge that the feature was in development after an app researcher published an early image of the tool.
Meta says the optional user controls, which are still in the early stages of development, will help people shield themselves from nude photos as well as other unwanted messages.
The tech giant likened these controls to its “Hidden Words” feature, which allows users to automatically filter direct message requests containing offensive content.
According to Meta, the technology will not allow Meta to view the actual messages nor share them with third parties. “We’re working closely with experts to ensure these new features preserve people’s privacy, while giving them control over the messages they receive,” Meta spokesperson Liz Fernandez said.
Meta says it’ll share more details about the new feature in the next few weeks as they get closer to testing.
A report published earlier this year by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a British nonprofit organization, found that Instagram’s tools failed to act upon 90 percent of image-based abusive direct messages sent to high-profile women. Many were sent sexual images by men, and not even the “hidden words” feature could completely filter out swear words like “b*tch.”
Meanwhile, last year, The Pew Research Center published a report that found 33 percent of women under 35 had been sexually harassed online.
Work on the new Instagram feature comes as cyberflashing, which involves sending unsolicited sexual messages to strangers — often women — online, could soon become a criminal offense in the UK if Parliament passes the Online Safety Bill.
Cyberflashing is not, however, a crime in much of the US, though Texas made cyberflashing a misdemeanor in 2019. That’s despite the fact some experts believe it can be just as psychologically damaging as sexual abuse that takes place in person.
“Some will come forward and say [cyber flashing] is harmless,” Durham Law School’s professor Clare McGlynn, an expert in image-based sexual abuse, told HuffPost. “Everyone struggles with the fact it isn’t face to face, but you can’t rank sexual offences like that. The harm of sexual offences is so significant and different forms of offending can have the same impact on different people.”