(Pocket-lint) - Facebook's Instagram says it will start to ban people for abuse sent via direct message (DM).

In a statement on the Instagram blog, the social network referenced the recent racist abuse of some footballers in the UK and said it would be changing some policies as a result "including removing the accounts of people who send abusive messages, and developing new controls to help reduce the abuse people see in their DMs."

Facebook and Instagram have been seen as being fairly soft on such abuse in the past and, like other social networks have struggled to keep any kind of lid on abuse - there's a reason why Apple's Tim Cook recently branded social networks "purveyors of fake news and peddlers of division". Clearly, though, Cook's message was aimed at Facebook in particular.

Twitter, in particular, has been in the firing line in recent months but, again, has found it challenging to stop or even slow the torrent of hate but has introduced other measures including controlling who can reply to your tweets as well as fact checking measures. 

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On the action it's now taking around DMs, Instagram says: "Currently, when someone sends DMs that break our rules, we prohibit that person from sending any more messages for a set period of time. Now, if someone continues to send violating messages, we’ll disable their account. We’ll also disable new accounts created to get around our messaging restrictions, and will continue to disable accounts we find that are created purely to send abusive messages."

It adds that it is working on a feature to stop users being exposed to abusive DMs in the first place - perhaps some auto-filtering - that will be launched "in the coming months". Instagram has also introduced AI that warns people if they're about to post a potentially abusive comment. This apparently led to a "meaningful decrease" in comments. 

Instagram says it took action on 6.5 million pieces of hate speech on Instagram between July-September last year, 95% of which was found before anyone reported it. 

Writing by Dan Grabham.