Instagram has announced a range of new features designed to offer more protection to young users, both from the negative impacts of overuse of the app and from predators that may be lurking within its network.
But context is important here.
As a quick recap, back in September, as part of The Facebook Files expose, several internal reports from the company were released which showed that Instagram can have harmful mental health impacts on users, and that Facebook - now Meta - was well-aware of this fact. Facebook refuted this, claiming that this was a small-scale data exercise and not broadly indicative, but as a result, the US Senate called on Meta executives to answer questions about the potential harms caused by Instagram.
Facebook’s global head of safety Antigone Davis faced a senate grilling in September, and this week, after agreeing to appear late last month, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri will now also front up for questioning.
That sets the scene for today’s announcement, in which Instagram notes, several times, that it’s been working on these updates ‘for a long time’.
Make of that what you will.
Timing considerations aside, the impetus here is a positive, as it will provide more protections for young users in various ways.
First off, Instagram has announced a new parental control option that will enable parents and guardians to set limits on how much time their teens spend in the app.
As you can see here, the new option will also enable parents to see how much time their child is currently spending in the app – though I can only imagine the fury if a parent opted to only allow their child 30 minutes per day online.
In addition to this, teen users will also now be able to notify their parents if they report someone, which will provide an opportunity for the parents to be more involved in the process. Instagram says that this is the first version of these tools, with more options to be made available over time.
That could be a good way for parents to maintain a level of guardianship over teen screen time, which, given the aforementioned impacts of Instagram use, may end up being a significant benefit.
In addition to this, Instagram has also officially announced its new ‘Take a Break’ prompts, which were spotted in testing early last month.
As shown here, the new option will enable users to set reminders to take some time away from the app after a certain period of activity, with either 10, 20 or 30 minute activity reminders.
Instagram’s also launching new in-app prompts to make young users aware of the tool:
“To make sure that teens are aware of this feature, we’ll show them notifications suggesting they turn these reminders on. Early test results show that once teens set the reminders, more than 90% of them keep them on. We’re launching this feature in the US, UK, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and Australia today, and we’ll bring it to everyone by early next year.”
Instagram has actually had time limit reminders available since 2018, so functionally, this new feature doesn’t add anything. But maybe, via these prompts, that could get more users to be more conscious of the time they spend scrolling, which, as Instagram notes, has produced good results in early going.
Instagram’s also launching new bulk delete options, which will enable users to delete all of their photos, videos, likes and comments quickly and easily.
While it’s also looking to further restrict unwanted exposure for teen users by removing the ability for people to tag or mention teens who don’t follow them, or to include their content in Reels Remixes or Guides by default.
“We’re testing these changes to further minimize the possibility that teens will hear from those they don’t know, or don’t want to hear from, and plan to make them available to everyone early next year.”
These features build on Instagram’s past updates which restrict adults from sending messages to teens who don’t follow them, and could help to further limit unwanted, predatory conduct in the app.
And finally, Instagram is adding a new process that will prompt users to check out other topics if they’ve been dwelling on certain topics for too long.
Research shows that these types of nudges, at the right time, can be helpful in getting young users to broaden their horizons, and not get fixated on certain elements. The new prompts are coming soon, with Instagram to release more information shortly.
One final key element is that Instagram’s also developing new ways to verify people’s ages, which could help to stop very young people from signing up to the app.
In combination, the various tools work towards addressing several key areas of concern, and it’ll be handy for Mosseri to have these updates as reference points in his coming Senate appearance.
Though the timing is a little convenient, and does suggest that Instagram maybe could have acted sooner. If the research showed that these were elements of concern, and as Instagram notes, it has actually been working on such ‘for a long time’, why not implement them sooner? Why has it waited till now, just before a Senate hearing, to take the next steps on each?
Again, skepticism aside, the real world benefits of these updates could be significant, so if you compartmentalize the motivation, it is worth considering the value of such in your process.