Instagram and other social media platforms have long been struggling with the rise of communities encouraging self-harm and suicide on their platforms. Following the death of 14-year-old British Molly Russell in 2017, the social media giant, under its new CEO Adam Mosseri, announced this week that it will hide images of self-harm under its ‘Sensitivity Screens’ feature.
There have been a number of deaths and incidents of self-harm in recent years as a result of the spread of various social media groups influencing teens to perform self-harm practices. Most infamously are groups promoting and encouraging members to sustain harmful and sometimes deadly eating disorders. But after Russell’s parents reported that they believe she took her own life following her exposure to disturbing posts on Instagram and Pinterest, social media platforms were forced to confront the dark and sometimes harmful turn their platforms have taken.
“I have been deeply moved by the tragic stories that have come to light this past month of … families affected by suicide and self-harm,” Mosseri write in an op-ed published by the Telegraph on Monday, February 4. “We are not yet where we need to be on the issues of suicide and self-harm. We need to do everything we can to keep the most vulnerable people who use our platform safe.” He added.
Under the new Sensitivity Screens feature, content that is clearly promoting self-harm, such as images of cuts or other forms of self-abuse will be removed from the platform immediately. This process is currently heavily reliant on community flagging, so the more vigilant and active we become as users, the safer the Instagram terrain will become—in theory. Of course, AI is also used to detect this type of content, however are well aware of the shortcomings of AI image recognition. Recent removals of what AI has detected as ‘pornographic’ images come to mind. Suffice to say, it is not all that accurate or reliable.
Instagram regards itself as a “supportive environment” says Mosseri; a platform for creating awareness among people facing difficult issues, and with that, some aspects of the new move have been criticised by those who see the platform as a place to freely express their struggles and find likeminded comradeship. For that Mosseri reported that Instagram still allows users to “share that they are struggling,” so photos or videos that don’t promote self-harm but talk about it and offer support will remain on the site, but won’t appear in search, hashtags, or the Explore tab.
The company also employs content reviewers trained to make it more difficult to find self-harm images, and is working on new ways to support people in need. “This is a difficult but important balance to get right,” Mossari wrote. “These issues will take time, but it’s critical we take big steps forward now.”
It seems that Mosseri is on the right track when it comes to the difficult task of making the platform safer for users who are vulnerable, yet a side-effect of Sensitive Screens will undoubtedly make this move it more difficult to find accounts that offer positive support to those suffering from mental ill health. With that, it’s crucial that in its chase to make the platform ‘safe’, Instagram (and other social media platforms) tread carefully around the terrain of these accounts and nourish channels, users and communities who do support those looking for a place to share, talk and help one another through virtual aid.
Last month, British MPs rejected plans for a 1p per garment fashion tax albeit our climate crisis. At the same time, a Missguided £1 bikini appeared on the market—something that should be beyond concerning for everyone. The U.K. has the highest consumption of fast fashion in the whole of Europe, with over a million tonnes of clothing ending up in landfills each year. So how much power do we as consumers really have when it comes to sustainability and why is this discussion still going on?
The swimsuit sold out promptly, with 1,000 bikinis dropping everyday on the brand’s website, which further raises the question of how it is possible to produce and retail an entire set for just £1, free delivery included. Missguided presented an official statement claiming the production cost was of a higher value to the retail cost, and that the bikini was a “gift” to their customers, in the name of “empowering women to look and feel good without breaking the bank”. Interestingly enough, 78 percent of the brand’s employees are female, yet, they are a 46 percent median wage gap between men and women. The brand ‘excuses’ itself on its website by claiming that this is due to “having more women than men” in lower paid positions, and fewer in higher ones. The lower paid positions include the factory ones, where workers often make as little as £3.50 an hour—contrasting with the U.K.’s minimum wage of £7.83 for over 25s.
Despite being one of the U.K.’s leading retail brands, according to the statistics conducted by the House of Commons, Missguided is also the least environmentally friendly, rejecting the use of recycled or organic materials in their products, clearly avoiding the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) programme as well as the sustainable clothing action plan. The government has the most power when it comes to regulating fast fashion, and yet, British MPs have rejected numerous regulations on the industry.
Many of these dismissals include the 1p per item tax to raise £35 million for clothing collection and sorting, the ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold stock, and even making a law requiring brands to publically release a modern slavery statement. In addition to this, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has also urged to put lessons on designing, creating and repairing clothing into the school curriculum, as a means to end the era of ‘disposable clothing’ as well as for the MPs to explore a ‘sharing’ economy in which hiring and swapping would replace purchasing. The failure to implement these rules and regulations results in the continuation of unsustainable, disposable mass production, which ultimately affects the environmental crisis even further.
Marketing alone has so much power in influencing what the consumer chooses to buy, and fast fashion brands know this. The infamous swimsuit was advertised by last year’s Love Island contestant Ellie Brown, and being the official fashion sponsor of Love Island 2018, Missguided saw a 40 percent increase in sales. This year, another fast fashion brand, I Saw It First, secured a spot as the show’s official fashion partner, spending around £2 million on the partnership. With over 4.2 million viewers of Love Island’s first episode alone (57 percent appear to be 16-34 years old) the show has the ability to reach a huge number of potential consumers, and yet, it still decides to go for unethical brands.
Similarly, Emily Ratajkowski has recently launched a collection with Boohoo owned Nasty Gal, a brand known to be criticised for their mistreatment of workers while Kylie Jenner advertises for knock-off brand Fashion Nova via her Instagram with over 139.5 million followers. Celebrities and influencers make a conscious choice to promote these brands and in an age where Instagram seems to dictate all new trends, the choices they make allow us to feel a sense of relatability that we, too, can afford to dress like one of the Jenners. Although there is nothing wrong with that idea, influencers should also make a deliberate choice to promote more sustainable alternatives to their followers.
While it is the consumer who creates a demand for fast fashion, it’s unfair to entirely blame the consumer for the harmful environmental impacts or unethical working conditions of the industry. Of course, it’s true that spending £1 on a bikini could seem immensely appealing, but it is important to consider not only the impact this product will have on our planet, but also how the people who made it are affected by such low prices.
Affordable clothing is not only appealing but is essential too, and we consumers can help so much by simply buying less, shopping vintage or seeking other sustainable alternatives. Until the government or the brands alone begin regulating their carbon footprint, perhaps those with a platform should consider twice before encouraging impulse buying. Just putting it out there. In addition, Missguided has now changed the price of the bikini from £1 to £5—a feeble attempt at clearing their conscience or is selling a swimsuit for a literal pound not making enough profit? Either way, nice try.