The updates come after 250 academics signed an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg expressing concerns around Instagram’s research into its impact on young people.
Amid growing concern around the impact of Instagram on teens, the Meta-owned app is introducing new tools and features in a bid to make young people safer on the platform. This includes updated privacy rules, tools for parents and a ‘Take a Break’ feature.
Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri introduced the new features in a blog post and said the company will be taking a “stricter approach” to what is recommended to teens on the app and will stop users from tagging or mentioning teens who don’t follow them.
Nudges to steer young users’ attention away from something they’ve been dwelling on for a long time will also be introduced, while a Take a Break feature to help them manage their time on the app has been launched today (7 December) in several countries, including Ireland.
“It’s important to me that people feel good about the time they spend on Instagram, so today we’re launching Take A Break to empower people to make informed decisions about how they’re spending their time,” Mosseri said.
“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. We’ll also show them expert-backed tips to help them reflect and reset.”
This comes after more than 250 international academics signed an open letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressing concern that the company’s internal research on potential harms to adolescents caused by its platforms is poorly designed and too secretive.
The group urged the Facebook-owner to take three concrete steps to support the mental health of young people: greater transparency on internal research, contribution to global independent research and establishing an independent oversight trust on Meta platforms.
“We have been following news reports about research within your companies on the mental health of child and adolescent users of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Unfortunately, that research is happening behind closed doors and without independent oversight,” the letter read.
They argued that Instagram’s internal research does not “meet the high scientific standards required” and urged the company to accept independent oversight. “Sound science must come before firm conclusions are drawn or new tools are launched,” it went on.
While Mosseri did not address any of the concerns raised directly, he said in the blog post that Instagram has a “positive impact” on young people and that the company will “continue doing research, consulting with experts, and testing new concepts to better serve teens”.
As well as the host of new features, including monitoring tools for parents launching in March and an ‘educational hub’ later, Mosseri said that Instagram is continuing to develop ways to verify people’s ages on the app.
In September, Facebook suspended the development of Instagram Kids, a version of the app for 10 to 12-year-olds, following a wave of criticism. It came after a Wall Street Journal article, based on information from whistleblower Frances Haugen, claimed the company was aware of negative impacts of Instagram on teens and was doing nothing about it.
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