A day before the head of the company is scheduled to tell U.S. lawmakers what it is doing to help keep kids safe online, Instagram is launching a new feature that urges teenagers in Canada and other countries to take breaks from the photo and video sharing platform.
Take A Break is a program that encourages teens who have signed up for it to log off after they have been on the platform for a certain amount of time, according to a Tuesday morning blog post from Instagram head Adam Mosseri. He is scheduled to appear in front of a Congressional hearing on Wednesday.
The company said starting Tuesday, the feature is available to any users between the ages of 13 and 18 based on how they self-reported when they signed up for Instagram.
"If someone has been scrolling for a certain amount of time, we'll ask them to take a break from Instagram and suggest that they set reminders to take more breaks in the future," Mosseri said. "We'll also show them expert-backed tips to help them reflect and reset."
The company did not specify how long someone would have to be on the app before receiving a notification.
Users must 'opt in' to the service
Mosseri said the service will require users to opt into it, but said teens would get "notifications suggesting they turn these reminders on."
He said early test results show that once teens set the reminders, more than 90 per cent of them keep them on.
In addition to nudging teens to take breaks, Instagram says it will also:
- Stop people from tagging or mentioning teens who don't follow them.
- Be stricter about what the algorithm recommends to teens in its search, explore, hashtags and suggested accounts sections.
- Suggest different topics to explore if a teen user has been dwelling on one topic for a while.
The moves are part of efforts that Facebook, renamed Meta Platforms, has touted on as it weathers backlash about not doing enough to rein in harmful content and faces new legislation looking to impose restrictions on tech giants.
Meta owns Instagram.
The service rolls out in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand today and will expand globally next year, Mosseri said.
Instagram plans to roll out another new feature in 2022. That one will allow parents to get alerts about how much time their teens are spending on the service and to limit that time, Mossari said.
Scrutiny after whistleblower goes public
The company recently scrapped plans to offer a completely new service for teens, because of growing backlash against the harm that social media can do to young minds.
Mosseri is scheduled to testify in front of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, which decided to look into Facebook's business practices after a whistleblower at the company came forward earlier this year.
Former Facebook product manager turned whistleblower, Frances Haugen, has testified to U.S. and European lawmakers on the matter. She cited internal company research suggesting peer pressure generated by Instagram has led to mental health and body-image problems in young users, especially girls, and in some cases, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts.
Speaking last week to Congress, she urged U.S. lawmakers to move forward with proposals introduced after her first appearance in October. They include restrictions on the long-standing legal protections for speech posted on social media platforms.
Haugen also has offered guidance on new online rules that are much further along in the U.K. and European Union, which has pioneered efforts to rein in big technology companies.
The social media platform also said it's developing features that will stop people from tagging or mentioning teens that don't follow them, nudge young users to other things if they have been focused on one topic for a while and be stricter about what posts, hashtags and accounts it recommends to try to cut down on potentially harmful or sensitive content.
With files from The Associated Press
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