When in doubt, blur it out. That’s how Instagram is handling any controversial photos that surface on its platform.
On Thursday, Instagram announced a new policy to blur out “sensitive” content that users have flagged as either offensive or disturbing. The blurred photos and videos do not explicitly violate Instagram’s content guidelines, so they don’t warrant a removal by Instagram standards. However, some users may still find them too sensitive to view.
“While these posts don’t violate our guidelines, someone in the community has reported them and our review team has confirmed they are sensitive,” the Instagram team wrote in a blog post announcing the policy. “This change means you are less likely to have surprising or unwanted experiences in the app.”
If you come across a blurred photo or video on Instagram and would like to see it, you can just tap on it and the blurry screen will disappear to reveal the sensitive content.
In addition, Instagram used the opportunity of “Fostering a Safer, Kinder Community” to announce that two-factor authentication was now available to every user.
Why this matters: As Instagram continues to gain millions of users, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to moderate the type of content that surfaces on its platform. As a general rule, Instagram doesn’t allow photos and videos that contain nudity. Although this policy has been modified so that “photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed.”
Glorification of self-injury and graphic, violent content are other big no-no’s. And Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, has also had to navigate these murky waters, especially as it pertains to “graphic” or disturbing content. In 2013 the company lifted a ban to allow photos and videos that depicted beheadings.
It seems Instagram will continue to rely on its own community to self-moderate and flag inappropriate content. But instead of having to decide whether a photo crosses the line or violates the guidelines, it’s going to err on the side of blurring it out. After all, it’s impossible to expect every Instagram user to have the same threshold of what they consider offensive or disturbing.
But if Instagram almost always removes nudity and violent content, what could still constitute as “sensitive” content? We’re just going to have to tap on those blurred photos to find out.
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Oscar writes about iOS, mobile culture and digital music. He also hosts 'The iPhone Show' from Macworld's San Francisco HQ.