Social media giants should learn from their mistakes after a shameful start to 2019

If Facebook virtually owned the hashtag #ReputationFail in 2018 – something highlighted last week when longstanding communications leader Caryn Marooney announced her resignation – then sister firm Instagram made a similarly inauspicious start to 2019.

The biggest story affecting Instagram’s reputation has been the tragic suicide of 14-year-old Molly Russell, which her father has recently blamed on the social networking site because she had been viewing multiple images of self-harm thereon.

Reputational risk
There have been other serious knocks to Instagram’s image, not least the central role the platform played in the promotion of the disastrous 2017 Fyre Festival, where Fyre’s creator Billy McFarland and the social media ‘influencers’ he employed, stand accused of grossly misleading hundreds of starry eyed youngsters.

Our impression was a tech-media channel that was now the preserve of greedy self-promoters and worse, one guilty of showing countless examples of disturbing, potentially harmful content.

Last year, Facebook was similarly slammed for failing to remove, even take responsibility for, shocking images of child abuse and incitements to terrorism.

One of the reasons Facebook took a long-term pummelling was that its founder, Mark Zuckerberg proved so slow responding to these accusations. Instead he was reluctantly dragged in front of political committees, proving a taciturn witness in the glare of the publicity.

Even Facebook’s trophy communications hire, Sir Nick Clegg, has proven slow off the mark in this respect, recently spouting platitudes of concern rather than effecting actual policy changes.

Different approach
It was notable then last week, when Instagram’s head Adam Mosseri adopted a contrasting approach. He announced the network would eradicate all graphic images of self-harm and make the clean-up an absolute business priority.

Moreover, Mosseri said his personal reaction to Ian Russell’s accusations had been “overwhelming”, it had “hit me in the chest and stuck there”. Under fire from TV interviewers the boss sounded authentic and determined.

As ever of course, the proof is in the pudding. Should any shocking images remain, one can be sure the media will find them and redouble their attack. But at least it looks as though Instagram is committed to learning some lessons from its errant parent firm.


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