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We Tested Instagram’s Anti-Bullying Bot with Trump and Piers Morgan Quotes

How do famous bullies fare against Instagram’s new feature for detecting offensive language?

by Nana Baah
12 July 2019, 8:15am

The author writing comments, menacingly. Photo and collage by VICE staff. 

This week, Instagram announced a new feature to help stamp out cyberbullying on the platform. Using comments that have previously been reported, Instagram’s AI software detects language that may be considered offensive, and sends a notification that asks the user, “Are you sure you want to post this?” It also gives you the option to undo the comment, so the person whose photo you're posting on will be none the wiser that you’re a dick.

At a time when cyberbullying is a growing problem for teens and the Instagram posts of pretty much any publicly known figure attract countless abusive comments, this development is a step in the right direction. But exactly how good is Instagram's new anti-bullying AI? In a press statement, the company gives the example of “you’re so ugly and stupid” as a comment that would be classed as bullying and trigger the notification. But calling people stupid and ugly is passé – bullying is sadly a lot more sophisticated than that, nowadays.

So, to put Instagram's anti-bullying feature to the test, I compiled quotes from some of the world's most notorious “bullies” and commented them on my colleagues’ Instagram posts. Would they make it through the filter? Who knows! Does this count as cyberbullying my co-workers for content? Absolutely! Let's go.

MARK ZUCKERBERG

Instagram’s adoptive father, Mark Zuckerberg, is more strange than he is a bully. But in 2004, leaked IM messages showed him referring to some early Facebook users as "dumb fucks" for giving away their personal data so easily.

And so, we begin the experiment.

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Although 'stupid' triggers the warning, calling someone 'dumb' is a-OK. An interesting start.

TRINNY AND SUSANNAH

In 2001, when belts that covered most of your midriff were in and you could not only get away with, but were actively encouraged to wear dresses over jeans, Trinny and Susannah were style icons. A huge part of their appeal was the way they would lovingly drag the people who appeared on their makeover show, What Not to Wear.

Back in the heady days of early noughties TV, Trinny and Susannah's comments would have merely raised an eyebrow. Today, however, I'm convinced that they constitute bullying if left as an Instagram comment. Let's test this theory with a classic of the Trinny and Susannah genre: “You’ve got fried eggs where your tits should be”.

TrinnyandSusannah_InstagramAI


Nothing. Go forth and berate your flat-chested friends.

DONALD TRUMP

The POTUS is extremely online and so has made many wild statements, each one confirming the idea that he just dumps what he wants to say into a thesaurus and hopes for the best, then tweets it out and never thinks about it again. Although largely childish, his tweets are not what you want to appear under a picture of you having a laugh with mates.

First up:

DonaldTrump_InstagramAI

Fine, apparently.

I decide to ramp things up with Trump's view on the British Ambassador to the US:

DonaldTrump-InstagramAI

This is now my go-to insult and also allowed by Instagram's bot.

BORIS JOHNSON

The Prime Minister-to-be has said some pretty racist and homophobic stuff, but not many direct insults. However in a 2007 comment piece for the Daily Telegraph, Johnson did say that Hilary Clinton looks like "a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital", which is quite rude.

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Still nothing, though I will accept the failure of this one. Although Johnson's comment is horrible, it is quite an unconventional insult.

KATIE HOPKINS

In 2013, famously rude and unfunny Katie Hopkins criticised Nigella Lawson for making other women look imperfect in her column in The Sun:

KatieHopkins_InstagramAI

Cutting, but not cutting enough, apparently.

PIERS MORGAN

What is there left to say about the professionally pink and outraged Good Morning Britain host?Here is Piers Morgan on Madonna three years ago, in an interview with Digital Spy.

PiersMorgan_InstagramAI

And here he is responding to Little Mix:

PiersMorgan_InstagramAI

Both made it through :'(

Somehow, almost every one of the famous bully insults passed Instagram's anti-bullying AI without triggering the notification. As the feature was only announced this week, let's hope that it's still in its teething stage and will become better at detecting hurtful comments.

But in the meantime, just don’t call people ugly or stupid, OK?

DISCLAIMER: No feelings were hurt in the process of this experiment.

@nanasbaah