Facebook wants to give teens and young users the option of looking at different content while on Instagram or taking a break from the Instagram app in a bid to protect their mental health. Vice President for global affairs and communications Nick Clegg announced the new feature alongside the ‘nudge’ feature in an interview with CNN.
This development is coming after a whistleblower and former Facebook product manager, Frances Haugen, testified before the United States Congress about how the company was aware of the damage caused to the wellbeing of its users by its social media network but chose to ignore it.
With ‘nudge’ feature, Facebook plans to detect when a young user is repeatedly looking at a particular content and determine whether the content is conducive to their well-being. It will then ‘nudge’ them by showing a prompt or suggestion as to other available content that might interest the user.
This feature however is based entirely on the choice of the user. The feed that is being viewed will not be forcefully refreshed therefore the user can choose to ignore the ‘nudge’ or follow the prompt.
The ‘take a break’ feature is a prompt that shows users that they have spent too much time on the app and tells them to take a break. Again, this choice ultimately depends on the user.
Facebook cleaning up a battered reputation
Facebook, on its part, is trying to clean up its reputation after finding itself in a battle with the United States authorities about how their apps are damaging the welfare of the young populace.
The company released a new blog post with details and resources about how it is supporting mental health conversations across its platforms.
It also said there’s the Emotional Health Center in which users can access guides on how to safely navigate the app and also groups suggestions where mental health conversations take place.
With the help of Facebook-owned WhatsApp, UNICEF has launched a new Global Mental Health chatbot that offers tips for communicating as well as introduced new suicide prevention tools.
However, some people have decried these steps as reactive. One reason is that Facebook, through its own research was aware that Instagram was harmful to teens before the whistleblower came out. Another reason is mostly that all these new features are coming after the whistleblower’s testimony before Congress.
Social media’s influence on mental health of young people
According to a report by Forbes, Instagram was found to be the most popular among Gen Z users in the US who spend almost an hour everyday on the app. In Nigeria, about 34.3% of Instagram users are between the ages of 13-24, according to Statista.
In light of their immense popularity among teens and young adults, there is a growing demand from the public for social media networks to regulate content on their app and also screen time management.
TikTok, a video-based social media network has a content series; “You’re in Control which pairs popular creators with important messages about health and safety.
When on the app, tiktok users will see videos from content creators encouraging them to go outside, log off and sleep or to eat. The app also has a digital well-being feature where users can set a limit to the amount of time they spend on the app per day. Once the time elapses, the user has to enter a passcode to re-enter the app.
A lot of these features are user-based as the user can ignore all the prompts, leaving questions about their effectiveness. Facebook, however, claims it is doing the best it can to make its products enjoyable and safe to use.
“We are constantly iterating in order to improve our products. We cannot, with a wave of the wand, make everyone’s life perfect. What we can do is improve our products, so that our products are as safe and as enjoyable to use.”
Nick Clegg, Facebook Vice-President, Global Affairs