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Instagram wants to bring you a kinder, gentler internet

Come to the site for the sunsets and cheese plate photos, stay for the lack of hate and vitriol, CEO Kevin Systrom says.

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom says the Facebook-owned site for sharing photos and videos has made progress with tools to keep trolls and abuse at bay.
Stephen Shankland/CNET

Twitter may be dominated by trolls. Facebook may be manipulated by Russians scheming to divide us. But Instagram wants to be associated with something a lot more warm and fuzzy: kindness.

A year ago, Instagram Chief Executive Kevin Systrom asked himself if they could create a service that wasn't "a cesspool of hateful comments," he said at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in Beverly Hills. His staff liked the idea, and a year later, Instagram released a collection of more powerful tools to filter comments, mute the trolls and report troubling video.

"If Instagram is remembered for anything, maybe it won't be the lattes and the puppies; maybe it'll be for helping create a world that is kinder," Systrom said.

If so, that'll be quite an achievement. Social media like Instagram, a photo-sharing site owned by Facebook, give individuals a voice, but hate speech is hard to screen out. Look no further than Twitter, called to Congress last week to account for its inability to curb the dark side of free speech.

Systrom believes in the internet's better nature. "I stand behind social media in giving a voice to each and every person," Systrom said.

That democratization of influence is a hoary old chestnut of the internet era, whether referring to online debate or creative expression, but it's not easy. Many of today's most active internet users weren't even born in 1990 when the term Godwin's Law was coined to refer to the tendency of discussions on the now-extinct Usenet online forums to devolve into hot-tempered references to Hitler and Nazis.

Despite the difficulties, creative expression is undeniably alive and well on the internet. Instagram is home to millions of photos, and 250 million people use the Instagram Stories feature daily to post slideshows and photos with silly special effects, Systrom said.

"It used to be a few people in a room, the old guys running newspapers, who controlled what you saw," Systrom said. "Now people are now producing as much as they're consuming."