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Facebook and Instagram put a bandaid on social media addiction – ANITH
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Facebook and Instagram put a bandaid on social media addiction

Facebook and Instagram put a bandaid on social media addiction

Facebook and Instagram will soon be able to show you exactly how much time you’re wasting in their apps.

Both apps will soon be rolling out new time management features, which help users see how much time they spend in the apps and get reminders when it’s time to take a break, Facebook announced Wednesday.

The features, some of which have leaked over the past few weeks, look similar to other screen time controls we’ve seen from Apple and Google. 

There’s a dashboard with some usage stats, breaking down how much time you’ve spent in the apps over the last week. If you want to limit your time spent in the app, you can opt to set reminders, which alert you when you are close to a pre-set time limit, or you can mute all incoming notifications for up to eight hours at a time. 

Instagram’s new features for managing time spent in the app.

The goal, according to the companies, is to help Facebook and Instagram users ensure their time in the apps is “intentional, positive and inspiring.” (The company notes research has shown people who use social media passively are more likely to be negatively affected by it.) By allowing people to  more actively manage their time in the apps, they might just be more “intentional” about how they spend that time, Facebook claims.

“We want to empower people to make their own decisions around what’s an appropriate amount of time to spend and how and when they want to engage,” says Instagram product management director Ameet Ranadive.

What’s not clear, though, is whether these features will actually have any impact on users’ behavior. They put the burden on users, for one. If someone really is struggling with social media addiction, they’ll likely have a difficult time following any self-imposed time limits. 

The features also don’t do much to actually discourage you from accessing the apps for an extended period of time. The longest you can mute notifications for is eight hours, and there’s nothing in the app to prevent you from using it once you’ve reached your time limit.

Facebook's new time-management controls.

Facebook’s new time-management controls.

It’s also unclear whether having access to detailed usage stats actually has a meaningful impact on behavior in the first place. Facebook says it’s worked with researchers who study social media and its impact on wellbeing, but the company has yet to cite any specific research that suggests having access to this type of information leads to any behavioral changes.

That Facebook’s first attempt at limiting users’ time in their apps is underwhelming isn’t necessarily surprising. These features run directly counter to Facebook’s core business, which for years has relied on aggressive growth tactics to attract more users and lure them to spend more time in their apps. 

And while the company has made some changes aimed at addressing the “well” part of “time well spent — updating News Feed earlier this year to emphasize content from friends and family rather than viral content, for example — Facebook and Instagram are still dependent on keeping us glued to their services.

In fact, Facebook is still plugging full steam ahead with other features designed to keep people in its apps for longer periods of time. Facebook is currently investing heavily in longform video content through Watch, a new video hub within the app. And Instagram recently launched IGTV, which lets creators post videos up to an hour in length. 

Counterintuitive as that may be, it seems Facebook’s strategy, at least for now, is to try to accommodate both ends of the spectrum: Those who simply can’t get enough, as well as those looking to take a break.

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Anith Gopal
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