Instagram account featuring Western Isles’ schoolkids is removed after bullying complaint is upheld

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An anonymous Instagram account that invited the posting of pictures and comments on children at The Nicolson Institute, Stornoway has been taken down by the social media giant following complaints.

But it has emerged that earlier this week Instagram, in response to a complaint from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar about the account, refused to take the page down claiming that it did not ‘violate’ the company’s ‘community guidelines’.

The refusal prompted an appeal by the Comhairle, and by Wednesday morning, in a reversal of its original decision, the page had been removed by Instagram on the grounds that it did, in fact, violate their community guidelines.

The Comhairle has now also referred the account to police for investigation.

The account, set up before Christmas and published under a false name clearly linked to The Nicolson Institute, asked Instagram users to ‘Send me pictures of people on the Nicolson, I’ll post them and keep it anonymous. If you don’t want a picture up tell me and I’ll remove it.’

Earlier this week, the account had published at least five pictures of three different children and had nearly 40 followers, with comments being made on the pictures.

Parents of children attending the school have expressed concerns on social media and in the local and national press over the safety of their children in the wake of confirmed and anecdotal reports of high levels of bullying at the school, and allegations of a lack of effective action by the school and the Comhairle in response – allegations which both the School’s leadership and the Comhairle have strongly denied.

Instagram were approached for a response to the issue and their initial decision not to remove the page.

The company replied with non-attributable summaries of their community guidelines and complaints procedures, and detailing the tools they use to identify abusive content.

It did however confirm that Instagram: ‘Acknowledges that content that is mistakenly kept up is swiftly removed once the team is made aware’, and continued, the company: ‘Reiterates our commitment to safety and wellbeing on the platform and details the variety of tools we have available on the platform to support community members’.

But the company’s reply failed to address specifically how, in this instance, the page was permitted to remain live after complaints had been made, and about concerns over the effectiveness of their initial investigation procedures that permitted the content to remain visible for a number of days only for it to be removed later as breaching the company’s guidelines.

The identity of the Instagram account holder is not known, and it has not been confirmed that the account holder is either a child or has connections to The Nicolson Institute.

A statement from the Comhairle confirmed that Instagram had failed to act on their initial complaint, and said: “Appropriate support is being offered to pupils as required. We would hope that all parents would recognise that this is anti-social and would discourage any such behaviour.”

Now the organiser of a campaign against bullying at The Nicolson Institute has called on parents to monitor their children’s social media use.

Speaking before confirmation of the page being removed had been received, Donna Jaffrey, who runs the Uniting Against Bullying campaign which raised awareness of the Instagram account and who last year started a petition against bullying at The Nicolson, which received nearly 1000 signatures, said:

“The page on Instagram is clearly a page for people to be bullied and made fun of, and the boys pictured are all clearly pupils in the Nicolson. It’s time all parents started monitoring their children’s social media accounts. Any kind of bullying is unacceptable,

“If we, as parents, don’t try to help in any way we can to change things like this then we don’t stand a chance in any other avenue we pursue. I fully understand that bullying will never be solved but we can all do more to try and get as much of this nipped in the bud as possible.”