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New Instagram Tool Addresses Social Media Addiction

by Emily Murray |  ❘ 

Instagram Feature Aims To Lower Social Media Addiction

This Tuesday, Instagram debuted a new feature that they think can help to lower social media addiction amongst users. The photo sharing app’s “Take a break” tool was released after facing months of criticism for their child safety practices. The head of Instagram, Andrew Morresi, is set to appear before congress to address the topic on December 8th. 

Social Media Addiction

It is estimated that 10% of people in the US are experiencing an addiction to social media. While there is no medical diagnosis, overuse and compulsive social media behaviors can have negative effects on one’s physical and mental health. Research has shown that using social media can produce a similar dopamine increase to substance use. This chemical, which is associated with pleasure, is viewed by the brain as rewarding. This positive reinforcement is temporary, causing users to return to the app when it wears off. 

While not everyone who uses social media will form an addiction, excessive use is a problem when it interferes with other aspects of an individual’s life. Negative effects of a social media addiction include:

  • Low self-esteem 
  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression 
  • Disrupted sleep schedule
  • Decreased school or work performance 
  • Lack of empathy
  • Not putting effort into “real life” relationships

What Is Instagram’s “Take A Break” Tool?

Instagram’s new “Take A Break” feature was designed to prevent social media addiction by urging users to close out the app after a set amount of time. Those who choose to utilize this setting must choose between 10, 20, or 30 minutes of use. After the selected amount of minutes has passed, users receive a full screen alert which includes suggested alternative activities. These suggestions include: taking a deep breath, writing something down, checking their to-do list, and listening to a song. 

This latest Instagram tool is available this week in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. The social media company has also said that they are developing other tools to address these issues. They intended on creating a tool that will allow users to delete comments, posts, and previous likes in bulk. Additionally, they are working on an educational hub to provide resources for parents, as well as manage and view their child’s social media use. 

Instagram’s Impact On Young People

In October of this year, a former employee of Meta (previously Facebook) supplied a series of internal documents to journalists. Known as “The Facebook Papers,” these documents revealed that the tech conglomerate had conducted research on how Instagram can impact the teens who use their app. Meta’s data showed that 1/3rd of teenage girls reported that Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies.

One of the insider documents, released by France Haugen, reads, “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”

Even with the knowledge of the potential damage to mental health and body image, the company had not made any changes to their services or engagement techniques. In response to the whistle blower’s claims, a bipartisan group of state attorney general’s initiated an investigation into Meta. The 11 states involved in this investigation intend on examining how Instagram works to increase frequency and engagement specifically for young people. 

Meta claims that the initial reporting of their data lacked context and did not include important information. They insist that the survey of young girls included 12 issues total and that using Instagram made them feel better in all of the 11 other categories. 

A spokesperson for Meta said, “These accusations are false and demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of the facts. While challenges in protecting young people online impact the entire industry, we’ve led the industry in combating bullying and supporting people struggling with suicidal thoughts, self-injury, and eating disorders.”

The company has also halted the development of a previously announced version of Instagram intended for only children to use. 

Is Instagram Designed For Addiction?

App developer Peter Mezyk spoke with Business Insider on the addictive qualities of social media platforms like Instagram. Mezyk told the site the ability of an app to introduce a new habit is often used to measure its success. Facebook and Instagram encourage habitual use because more time spent on the app increases their ad revenue. Mezyk described attention as currency in this situation. Because of this, it is believed that Instagram and Facebook are deliberately designed to lead to an addiction.

Mezyk also outlined the 3 criteria apps use to cause a habit to form: sufficient motivation, an action, and a trigger. This is called the “three-pronged approach” which is based on the Fogg Behavioral Model. Motivations are the reason users open an app, such as feeling like they might be missing out on something. Receiving a notification, and other triggers, cause users to click on the app. Actions, like tapping the like button, begin the behavioral loop. 

Mezyk believes that apps are mostly designed to be addictive because they don’t prioritize ethics. “The reason some apps are addictive is that most companies first ask themselves how they can make money with them – but ethical app development focuses on the user,” Mezyk said. 

Holding Meta Accountable

This week a group of around 300 scientists from the psychology, technology, and health fields penned an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg. These scientists have asked Meta’s CEO to allow outside researchers in to evaluate potential negative mental health effects from their apps.

It was stated in this letter that the group does not think that the leaked research alone proves the damage caused by Meta. They also wrote that the issues of teen and child mental health are too serious for Meta to withhold their data. 

Instagram’s CEO, Adam Mosseri, will testify under oath in front of congress for the first time this week. This panel, which is a subcommittee of the senate’s Commerce Committee, will be led by Senator Richard Blumenthal. He has said that he intends on asking questions about the app’s algorithms and how they can affect how children engage on the app. The panel is hoping to get Instagram to commit to being transparent about their rankings and recommendations. Executives at Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube have already made a similar commitment. 

In addition to Instagram’s new “Take a break” setting, they have said they want to take a stricter approach when recommending content to teens. They plan to do so by actively suggesting alternative topics when young users have spent too much time viewing any type of content.

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