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Catching Up With Instagram's Kira Wong O'Connor To Discuss Banter, Bullying And The Importance Of Kindness!

Cybersmile and Instagram worked together on their joint Banter or Bullying? campaign, a research based awareness and education initiative for Anti-Bullying Week. If you are affected by an online related problem or anything touched on within this interview, follow the links throughout the article to our various support services or click on the blue logo icon at the bottom right of the screen to start using Cybersmile Assistant, our smart AI support assistant.

Can you tell us a bit more about your role within Instagram and what you do day to day please?

I am the Public Policy Programmes Manager for Instagram in EMEA which means I work with organizations, NGOs and policymakers across Europe to help build or support programs that spread awareness of Instagram’s policies and products. Day to day, I work with teams across Instagram who all work on protecting the wellbeing of the Instagram community – from engineering, product, marketing, sales, partnerships, and comms. I’m also lucky enough to work with some wonderful external partners, like Cybersmile, to help amplify the fantastic resources they offer. And I get to speak externally about all the work Instagram is doing to keep our community a safe, kind, and supportive place for everyone – and get feedback on what we can do better.

You partnered with Cybersmile for the Banter or Bullying? research. Why was it important for Instagram to focus on this area?

While bullying is something that has existed since before social media, and even well before the internet, we also know people experience bullying on Instagram. We want to make sure we are doing all we can to help combat it through our policies, products and programs. On a more personal note, I was bullied all the way up until secondary school so I know firsthand how important it is to have support – which is why the work of Cybersmile and other organizations is so vital.

What were your thoughts on the overall findings of the research? Was there anything in particular that surprised or encouraged you?

I thought it was so interesting that most people said they knew the difference between banter and bullying – but had also been personally impacted, or seen their friends hurt by banter. I’m glad this research is exploring it in more detail, because it seems we could benefit from having more conversations about when banter may be crossing the line. I was encouraged to see that 85% of people are not using banter as a way to excuse bullying behavior.

As part of our campaign together, we have created some visual assets outlining ways to keep things positive on Instagram. Can you talk a bit more about the various safety features available to users?

Instagram is committed to leading the fight against online bullying and has introduced a number of features to give young people greater control over what they see and experience. ‘Comment Warning’ is an AI-powered feature which asks people to think twice about a post that may contain bullying before it’s shared. If the technology detects potential bullying in a caption, it will give people the option to edit or undo that post before it is uploaded. We also have our Restrict tool which lets you quietly protect your account while still keeping an eye on a bully. And anyone can report or block someone for bullying behavior within the app, as well as creating bespoke comment filters to hide specific words or emojis that upset them.

How important is it for people to feel free to share content on social media without the fear of ridicule and abuse?

Incredibly important! We want people to feel safe enough to share their authentic selves on Instagram without fear. Instagram and the internet in general is a powerful tool to be able to express yourself, explore your passions, and connect with people over shared interests. Making sure people feel safe while doing that is something we are striving for everyday.

Instagram is always evolving. Is there anything exciting planned for the future that we should be aware of?

We are always testing new products and revisiting current products to ensure we are keeping up with the way the community is using Instagram. I’m currently really excited to see how our testing of hiding the ‘like’ button goes. I think it is a powerful tool to help depressurize posts so people can focus on posting what they are interested instead of posting for ‘likes’.

Do you personally have a positive mantra that you use to self-motivate or deal with negative situations?

I try to remind myself to treat myself and others with kindness. I heard a great quote from Jake Gyllenhaal (who was quoting someone else) a few years ago that has stuck with me: “Someone said to me recently to treat everyone that you meet as if they’ve had a broken heart. And I feel like I don’t always live that way, and if I did I would live a much richer and fuller and happier life.” To me, this embodies the idea that my actions should reflect what I want to see in the world. And if I put kindness and positivity out there, then hopefully it can spread. Even if it is just a small action.

We would like to say a HUGE thank you to Kira for this interview and to everybody at Instagram for being such amazing partners for the campaign! You can learn more about the Banter or Bullying? campaign here, or for more information about Cybersmile and the work we do, please explore the recommendations below:

How awesome was this interview with Kira?! Let us know your thoughts about the campaign by contacting us or tweet us @CybersmileHQ.