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Instagram Mounts Challenge Against Free Speech

Instagram has launched an artificial intelligence warning system that challenges the free speech of its users.

Starting today, the social networking app will notify people when their captions on a photo or video "may be considered offensive" and give them "a chance to pause and reconsider their words before posting."

A user who attempts to post a comment deemed to be objectionable will receive a prompt that reads "This caption looks similar to others that have been reported." The user will then be given three options: to edit the caption, to learn more about why their comment has prompted this response, or to share it anyway. 

The new warnings feature is being presented as a strategy to reduce online bullying; however, the warnings are the smallest of steps away from directly impeding users' free speech. 

Rollout of the warnings feature has currently only been undertaken in "select countries"; however, Instagram plans to exert control over what users are allowed to post globally in the coming months. 

In a statement released today, Instagram wrote: "As part of our long-term commitment to lead the fight against online bullying, we’ve developed and tested AI that can recognize different forms of bullying on Instagram. Earlier this year, we launched a feature that notifies people when their comments may be considered offensive before they’re posted. 

"Results have been promising, and we’ve found that these types of nudges can encourage people to reconsider their words when given a chance."

Instagram has not stated who it is that decides whether content is potentially offensive or by what standards such comments are measured. No mention is given either of the potential dangers of silencing users' voices and driving the disaffected underground.  

Instagram wrote: "Today, when someone writes a caption for a feed post and our AI detects the caption as potentially offensive, they will receive a prompt informing them that their caption is similar to those reported for bullying. They will have the opportunity to edit their caption before it’s posted. 

"In addition to limiting the reach of bullying, this warning helps educate people on what we don’t allow on Instagram, and when an account may be at risk of breaking our rules."

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