Instagram Adds New Prompts to Reduce Harmful Impacts on Young Users

Instagram’s adding some new in-app ‘nudges’ to help minimize harmful impacts on younger users, in response to concerns around overuse, and the mental health impacts of comparison in the app.

The new nudges will come in two forms, with the main one being an entirely new notification designed to re-direct users away from potentially harmful topics.

Instagram nudges

As explained by Instagram:

“Teens in certain countries will see a notification that encourages them to switch to a different topic if they’re repeatedly looking at the same type of content on Explore. This nudge is designed to encourage teens to discover something new and excludes certain topics that may be associated with appearance comparison.”

Appearance comparison is a significant concern. Last year, as part of its ‘Facebook Files’ series, which examined a collection of internal documents leaked from inside Meta, The Wall Street Journal reported that the company’s own research had shown that Instagram was especially harmful for teen girls, leading to increased suicidal thoughts.

As per the WSJ report:

“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.”

This new notification is another way to combat this element, though how effective it will be depends on how many people are searching for specific topics, as opposed to following certain users or accounts. Based on Instagram’s description, these nudges will only be shown in response to search activity on specific topics, which does seem to limit their potential to some degree.

Either way, Instagram says they’ll have an impact:

“We designed this new feature because research suggests that nudges can be effective for helping people – especially teens – be more mindful of how they’re using social media in the moment. In an external study on the effects of nudges on social media use, 58.2% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that nudges made their social media experience better by helping them become more mindful of their time on-platform. Our own research shows they’re working too: during a one-week testing period, one in five teens who saw our new nudges switched to a different topic.”

I mean, further data is required here for any real context. How many users were in the test pool? How many people are searching for harmful topics, as opposed to simply comparing themselves to others in their main feed? How often were these nudges being shown, on average?

There’s not really enough to go on to understand the true potential here, but hopefully, Instagram will eventually share more insight.

In addition to this, Instagram’s also launching updated ‘Take a Break’ reminders which will feature well-known app creators, which could improve resonance.

Instagram Take a Break reminder

Instagram first launched its Take a Break prompts late last year, with this new program leaning on established stars to maximize take-up.

“We’re empowering US-based young creators, through funding and education, to share more content on Instagram that inspires teens and supports their well-being. A Steering Committee of experts in child psychology and digital literacy will provide guidance on evidence-based ways for creators in the program to use language that strengthens emotional well-being and self image, how to create responsible content online and how creators can look after themselves and their communities on and offline.”

Utilizing popular creators could be the most effective way to increase awareness on this front, and get young users to take a step back from the online environment, rather than being dragged down into the worst of it.

Both are worthy experiments from Instagram, either way, and while I have doubts on the true reach and value of the topical nudges, anything that can be done to improve the wellbeing of youngsters should be implemented in the app.

On another front, Instagram’s also adding new parental control options to help parents manage their child’s app usage.

Instagram parental controls

Expanding on its existing parental controls, parents and guardians will now also be able to send invites to teens to initiate these supervision tools, set specific times to limit teens’ use of IG, and see teen reports on an account and/or post.

I can’t really see many teens being overly keen to let their parents in, and I can imagine that it’ll set up a lot of conflicts as a result – but either way, it enables a more collaborative, trust-centered approach to app supervision and management.

Social media offers great potential value for connection and community, enabling people to share their lives and experiences with each other, which can have huge positive benefits, in a range of ways.

But there are significant harms too. And while Meta itself has sought to play down those impacts in the past, it’s good to see that it is continuing to take action on this front.

The new nudge notifications are being tested with users in the US, UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with more regions to follow in the coming months.

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