Instagram to introduce “take a break” feature and “nudge” teens away from harmful content

Instagram will introduce new measures to nudge teenagers away from harmful content and encourage them to “take a break,” from the platform, Facebook vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg said on Sunday. Clegg made the remarks on CNN’s State of the Union show less than a week after whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before Congress about internal research that showed Instagram can have a negative effect on the mental health of young people.

“We’re going to introduce something which I think will make a considerable difference, which is where our systems see that a teenagers is looking at the same content over and over again, and it’s content which may not be conducive to their well being, we will nudge them to look at other content,” Clegg said. He added that in addition to pausing plans for an Instagram Kids platform and giving parents optional controls to supervise teens, the company planned to introduce a feature “called ‘take a break,’ where we will be prompting teens to just simply take a break from using Instagram.”

Clegg didn’t provide a timeline for either feature. In response to an email from The Verge seeking further details, a Facebook spokesperson said the features are “not testing yet but will soon.” The spokesperson pointed to a September 27th blog post by Instagram head Adam Mosseri which mentioned the company was “exploring” the features:

We announced last week that we’re exploring two new ideas: encouraging people to look at other topics if they’re dwelling on content that might contribute to negative social comparison, and a feature tentatively called “Take a Break,” where people could put their account on pause and take a moment to consider whether the time they’re spending is meaningful.

CNN host Dana Bash asked Clegg whether Facebook’s algorithm amplified or spread pro-insurrection voices ahead of a riot at the US Capitol building on January 6th. Clegg said he couldn’t give a yes or no answer to the question. Haugen is reportedly going meet with the committee investigating the January 6th attack.

Clegg did say that Facebook’s algorithms “should be held to account, if necessary, by regulation so that people can match what our systems say they’re supposed to do from what actually happens.”

Facebook has been under intense criticism for the past several weeks, following reporting from the Wall Street Journal based on internal documents that Haugen provided. A former product manager at Facebook, Haugen testified before Congress on Tuesday at a hearing focused on the company’s internal research that showed Instagram can be toxic, particularly for teen girls. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg disputed Haugen’s account, saying it was illogical for a company that relies on advertisers to push content that makes people angry to turn a profit.

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