Word on the street is that Instagram is testing a new, collaborative kind of Story — specifically, a kind which would be used within schools. While it’s in no way confirmed the app will ever have this feature, it could turn out to be a positive thing for students, if done properly.
Tipster Jane Manchun Wong was, as usual, the first person to spot the new feature, and was also the one to point out the accompanying code, which reads “School stories are manually reviewed to make sure the community is safe.”
The rumor is that students from a particular school will be able to see or post to the school’s Story, and given the phrase is “community,” I assume that means the teachers or school administrators will have access to it as well.
Reps from Instagram have thus far declined to comment, which could mean that it’s not actually happening. That said, Instagram have made a few other noises with respect to school life. For example, one of its recent updates allowed users to add themselves to a group specific to their college and graduating year, and the feature is currently being tested in some schools.
Now, “school” could mean anything from a middle school to a university, and a Story for any kind of school would produce content vastly different from the others. But if there’s one thing most schools have in common, it’s that they can be both a haven of positivity and a viper’s nest. So how could Instagram, should it ever decide to roll out such a feature, make it a good one for the community?
There are some caveats to think of, before one even contemplates that question: first, human moderators don’t exactly have a spotless record when it comes to catching bad stuff. For example, Twitter has humans reviewing its content, but it still had a “Kill all Jews” hashtag trending for a while after the attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue. A spokesperson was adamant the hashtag should not have been allowed there, which begs the question: Why was it?
Second, apps aimed specifically at school-aged people have also been known to be havens of cyberbullying and generally targeted behavior. Take Yik Yak: it was a localized messaging app that allowed millennials to comment anonymously on things that occurred in their immediate vicinity. As you might imagine, it was bogged down by accusations that it allowed harassment and threats of violence to occur.
Dr. Karen Freberg, associate professor in strategic communications at the University of Louisville and a research consultant in social media, notes the idea is a good one, but it would need to come paired with diligence and pragmatism in order to be good for anyone:
There are a lot of potential scenarios that need to be considered here. I do think there needs to be a thorough guide of expectations, moderator training and education programs, rules and protocols in place for this to be proactive. With this being said, with the proper framework on training, protocols and education, this could be a new feature that could bring forth communities. However, there needs to be a strong foundation for how to use these tools and features for all of these audiences with more diligence towards moderation.
That’s not to say there’s not the potential for a feature like this to be beneficial to the community. If done correctly, it could be a fun way for students to keep up with each other, and for different parts of the school to learn about each other’s activities. Imagine if, instead of checking a bulletin board or your school’s Facebook schedule, you checked your school’s Story and found out the volleyball team had a game and needed your support.
We may never see such a feature materialize, but, given how many young people prefer Instagram to other social networks, it could be a good way of engaging them in extra-curricular activities — but only if handled with care and a clear understanding of the downsides.