The platform has cast itself as the internet’s kindest place. But users argue harassment is rampant, and employees say efforts to stem it aren’t funded well or prioritized.
When Brandon Farbstein first joined Instagram in 2014, he was 14 and optimistic. Farbstein was born with a rare form of dwarfism, and he wanted to use the photo-sharing site to educate people about his condition—to, as he told me, “show people a glimpse into my life and inspire people.”
Soon enough, though, the hateful messages started coming: death threats, expletive-laden comments about his appearance, worse. A meme page put his face on Hitler’s body. Multiple accounts popped up with the explicit purpose of taunting him. His house was swatted. When he does a live video, the insults float onscreen, fast and furious. “It’s been hard to keep my composure,” Farbstein told me. After trolls started posting pictures of him in the hallways at his high school, he started to fear for his safety. Eventually, he left and finished high school online.
“My entire experience of high school was completely ruined by Instagram harassment,” Farbstein said. “It’s draining, it’s anxiety producing. I’m used to people calling me names, but it’s when people say that they’re going to kill me or come find my family that really gets me in a sense of pure terror. Really nothing can prevent or get in the way of that taking over your thoughts and emotions.”