Instagram to control teens’ browsing
Instagram will prevent teen users from spending too long scrolling through posts with a particular theme, the social media behemoth announced on Tuesday, adding that the feature was being rolled out across the US, the UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.
Teen users who are devoting what the platform judges to be “too much” time on Instagram’s Explore page looking at posts with a certain theme will be hit with a notification suggesting they look at other types of material instead.
The feature “is designed to encourage teens to discover something new,” according to a statement posted by parent company Meta. Users will be prompted to “choose what to explore next” and presented with an array of different images, each leading to a topic unrelated to whatever they were previously looking at.
Instagram claims that 58.2% of respondents to an external survey “agreed or strongly agreed that nudges made their social media experience better by helping them become more mindful of their time on-platform.” The social network’s own observations of user behavior over a one-week period bore this out, with one in five users obediently changing topics when they were “nudged.”
“We want to make sure people feel good about the time that they spend on Instagram,” platform head Adam Mosseri told CBS Mornings, describing the ‘nudge’ feature as “a way to softly encourage that.”
“No matter what topic you’re going deep into, if you’re going particularly deep, we let you know, and we suggest some other topics.”
The nudge function kicks in after scrolling through a certain number of consecutive posts, no matter what topic those posts relate to, spokesperson Liza Crenshaw reassured The Verge in an emailed statement. However, the suggested topics exclude “content that may be associated with appearance comparison.”
Meta whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed last year that the company was aware of the negative impact appearance-related comparisons had on its users, especially females. In one study after another, Meta confirmed that compulsively scrolling through images of people with thin or otherwise “ideal” bodies was bad for users’ mental health. A slide from one internal Facebook presentation acknowledged that “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls” who had already reported having body image issues, while another particularly damning study conducted by the company revealed that over 40% of users who reported feeling “unattractive” said they had first felt that way when using Instagram.
In addition to babysitting teen users itself, Instagram has announced it is expanding the controls available to teen users’ actual parents, offering tools that will provide a window onto what kind of posts or accounts their child reports, as well as a general accounting for how much time their child spends on the platform.
Instagram has also expanded its “Take a Break” feature, which supposedly ‘nudges’ teen users to get off the platform. The new version kicks in when the user has been scrolling through the platform’s “Reels” feature and is expected to be rolled out globally “later this summer.” It will showcase Reels created by “young creators” who “share their own tips for taking a break and why it’s a good idea to get off social media for a bit.”