Viral health activist Haile Thomas’s Instagram comments were always upbeat and encouraging — until she did her first livestream. “Someone was commenting like, ‘You have a horse face,’ and then other people got on and were posting mean stuff,” the 17-year-old said at a panel hosted by Instagram and Hearst Digital Media (Cosmopolitan‘s parent company) on April 24. “I hadn’t turned on any of the filters because my comments had always been so nice.”
Thomas and two other teen Instagram influencers, Aija Mayrock and Malick Mercier, spoke with Seventeen.com editor Kristin Koch about how teens — and anyone, really — can have fun, safe experiences on Insta. The filters Thomas referenced are the comment filters Instagram has rolled out over the past couple years, which let users block specific words and phrases in comments and even toggle post comments completely on or off. (It’s how Kim Kardashian blocked the snake emoji from her Instagram comments when Swifties were using it to troll her in 2017).) All three teens said they use the features to keep their time on Insta fun and productive, so they don’t dwell on negative comments.
On a separate panel, Ana Homayoun, author of Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World, told moderator Kate Lewis, Hearst Digital’s editorial director, that the key to helping teens have healthy experiences on social media is to educate yourself about the safety features, like comment filters, and show your kids how to use them. “Make sure they know they can opt in and out of things,” Homayoun said. “Make it about them, and how they can curate their social media to be positive.”
Aija Mayrock agreed that she wishes adults would’ve showed her those kind of features and explained the effects of having a public versus private account, rather than just enforcing bans on social media. “Instagram helped me survive bullying, it’s been a place of connecting for me,” she said. “You just need to know how to curate it to fit the things you care about, and block negativity.”
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