Facebook is no stranger to scandals, including ones that land it in court or grilled by Congress, but there are a few notable ones that really rouse people’s ire. While its meddling in a past US election still haunts it to this day, Facebook’s latest debacle doesn’t even involve its main social network but one of its biggest properties. Then again, the social tech giant has been blamed for how things are run at Instagram, and it is now promising to take stronger measures to protect its young users’ mental health.
Facebook made headlines again, and not in a good way, in the past few weeks when leaks and whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed how Instagram, in particular, had a very negative impact on the mental health of its teenage users. Not only were there studies pointing to this phenomenon, but Facebook was also allegedly well aware of it and chose to disregard the warning signs in favor of network traffic and, ultimately, revenues. Unsurprisingly, the world’s biggest name in social media once again found itself under intense scrutiny and criticism.
In response to the rising heat around its teenage demographic, Instagram opted to put its plans for an Instagram Kids on hold, perhaps indefinitely. Facebook and Instagram, however, are being pressured to take even bigger steps to protect young users, even while trying to explain away those leaked mental health studies. At CNN’s “State of the Union” show, Facebook VP of global affairs Nick Clegg reveals two such steps Instagram will soon implement in that direction.
It will, for example, try to prompt users to turn their attention away from what could be considered harmful content. If the teenage user is determined to be looking at the same kind of content over and over again, they will be urged to just look at some other content. That, however, will require Facebook to open its algorithms to inspection so that regulators can check how the network amplifies content, including potentially harmful ones.
Perhaps the most drastic and probably least useful will be a “take a break” reminder. This would be similar to what some digital wellbeing or mindfulness services try to do, prompting users to take a break from their phone or locking them out of the phone for a brief period. While adults may have the self-control to actually follow these reminders, teens might eventually find a way to get around those restrictions if Instagram doesn’t implement them effectively enough.