Instagram giving trolls time to ‘rethink’ actions. Wishlist for other online ‘rethinks’ needed.

My article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald here

In a bid to combat cyberbullying, Instagram has now introduced a 'rethink' feature which allows trolls and other nasties time to reconsider posting an unkind message. Instagram's AI will now send you a warning if your post is about to be offensive, so you can take it back!

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This feature is a step in the right direction however, however there are many more damaging experiences we have online where a, 'Rethink', or 'I wish I hadn't done do that!' feature would be helpful. What would you use it for?

Maybe you would unswipe that right swipe, unclick the malware link to win those free tickets, untrust the claims made by an Instagram wellness 'expert'. You might unbelieve statements that algorithms are designed to enhance your online experience, or untick that box that allows all your personal data to be used in ways that you have no control over.

Online harm and abuse comes from feeling a lack of control. Increasingly there are situations online that we wish we could take back because we have been led to think it was in our best interest. Social media and collection of our personal data are two big ones!

Humans are social beings so when Facebook was born, the idea of connecting with others online was a fun, liberating, and socially positive experience. Many ball and chains now come along with using social media that restrict our control and agency. The permanence of our digital identity is a heavy weight we now bear. Think of young people growing up today. Teens take risks and not everything they do is 100% perfect. That's part of being human! Yet they must drag around their online history throughout their whole life.  Recent research from University of London shows that young people overwhelmingly want a 'grand erasure' of their online footprint to stop childhood mistakes harming their future. This of course is not truly possible unless we are given permission to do so. To date, it has not been given.

The claim to our personal data is another abusive situation we are experiencing. A master/slave situation is now occurring where any sign up now expects that we hand over our personal data and allow it to manipulated for any purpose they desire. This damage is far reaching. I work in the field of Education and the collection of big data from students is rife and increasingly being used to restrict learning opportunities. Examples from the USA show that big data collected in primary school is used to categorise students into AI-deemed suitable learning tracks in high school. Algorithms however are not full proof. What if data was collected when the child was experiencing a stressful family situation and not performing at their best? What if they were categorised into Track A but in reality are a Track C. Once in track, the child has no control to take it back.

We don't just use technology, we are technology. Much of what we do, and think and understand now has a technological dimension. The scales of power are currently out of kilt. Regaining control and working towards a less harmful and abusive digital life means being more critical of what you sign up to, what you accept as par of the course of being online, and what you agree to, and why you use technology. We don't need to be given permission by the online giants to rethink, we can do it ourselves. Remember, they need us!