Cyberbullying experts react to Instagram's new anti-bullying Restrict feature

Restrict lets users block comments from a user without the user knowing.

October 3, 2019, 1:53 PM

Instagram has rolled out a new feature that will allow users to secretly block bullies from commenting on their posts. But cyberbullying experts said it was not clear the change would be a game-changer.

The new feature, called Restrict, lets users block comments on their posts from specific users without the user knowing. The blocked user will still see their comment on a user's post, but it will not be visible to anyone else.

The announcement came on Wednesday, in a nod to National Bullying Prevention Month in October.

"Bullying is a complex issue, and we know that young people face a disproportionate amount of online bullying but are reluctant to report or block peers who bully them," Instagram said in a statement announcing the feature. "Restrict is designed to empower you to quietly protect your account while still keeping an eye on a bully."

Earlier this year, Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, said at a developer's conference that they hope to "lead the fight against cyberbullying." He said they were testing new features to foster a "less pressurized" environment, including hiding likes, a "nudge" for being mean and an "away" mode.

Dr. Sameer Hinduja, the co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and a professor of criminology at Florida Atlantic University welcomed the Restrict feature as a "step in the right direction" from Instagram, but said it's still unclear how users will react to it.

"I think it is 'wait and see' when it comes to the utility of the Restrict feature," Hinduja told ABC News via email.

PHOTO: Instagram is seen here in a photo illustration on Feb. 6, 2019 in Paris.
Instagram is seen here in a photo illustration on Feb. 6, 2019 in Paris.
Chesnot/Getty Images, FILE

Scott Freeman, the CEO of the nonprofit cyberbullying advocacy group the Cybersmile Foundation, told ABC News that "a way of helping moderate comments on your own posts is a welcome addition."

"It is affecting people sharing info they want to share because they are aware of the abusive comments," he added. "What it doesn't do, is ... it's not helping the primary problem of people sharing content with the intention of hurting others."

For an upcoming report "Social America" for the foundation, Freeman said they surveyed over 20,000 millennial an Gen Z internet users in the U.S. and among both groups, Instagram was identified as the favorite social media platform.

"With that power and that popularity comes great responsibility to address those issues," of cyberbullying, Freeman said.

Freeman said that it's going to take more than "technical solutions to problems such as restricting comments" to address the issue of cyberbullying, such as more education and awareness initiatives.

Ultimately, Freeman said, we need to do more to remind people "that there are real people behind these accounts with real feelings."