Instagram is set to start nudging teenagers to “take a break” from the social media platform, in a small acknowledgement of the psychological impact the Facebook-owned app can have on young people.
The app is set to add a number of new features designed to assist negatively-affected users, which Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg said should make “a considerable difference” in an interview on CNN.
Clegg clarified that Instagram would “nudge” users to look at different content if they were “looking at the same content over and over again, and it’s content which may not be conducive to their well being” – as well as even asking younger users to step away from the platform temporarily where needed.
It’s something of a turnaround for Facebook, which has now paused its plans for a child-focused version of Instagram, in the wake of whistleblower Frances Haugen – who blew the lid off internal Facebook research around Instagram’s impact on teens’ mental health, and which wasn’t acted on until now.
Of course, Facebook and its connected platforms – Instagram, Whatsapp, Oculus – have had issues even staying live in recent weeks.
In early October a massive global outage saw everything from Facebook’s social media services to the door passes used by Facebook employees stop working – and it was followed by a shorter outage over October 8 that stopped users from accessing the likes of Instagram for several hours, reportedly down to an entirely different technical issue (via BBC).
During these outages, users flocked to other social platforms such as Twitter, or the Signal messaging app, which suggests not everyone is taking the opportunity to “take a break”, though.
Breaking with tradition
While small nudges and measures like these can have an impact, they also pale in comparison to the scale of the problem, or the built-in incentives towards ‘doomscrolling’ endlessly through news feeds.
Even asking teens to take a break is limited in its usefulness. The problem is that social media apps are often construed as how we take a break – from our work monitors, our chatting peers, our arguing relatives, the boredom of waiting for a bus. It’s a permanently-available distraction, and pushing for teens to ‘take a break’ now and again, while a necessary step, can’t fully counteract this problem by itself.
Back in May 2021, Instagram introduced a way to hide like counts entirely – and we’re going to need more instances like these of the service critically assessing its own mechanisms, rather than simply suggesting users close the app every once in a while.
Via The Verge