We’re becoming increasingly concerned about how much time we spend browsing social media apps on our phones. In December 2017, Facebook even published a post on the topic, admitting that spending too much time on its platform had a negative effect on users. It’s appropriate, then, that Facebook – owner of two of the biggest social networking apps, Instagram and, well, Facebook – is trying to do something about it.
The Silicon Valley giant has revealed that it’s releasing a new tool to try and limit how much time people spend on its apps. The tool will let people know how much time they’ve spent scrolling, alert them when they reach an allotted time, and allow them to mute notifications for set periods.
Harry Hugo, co-founder of the digital marketing company The Goat Agency – and former 15 to 16 hour a day Twitter browser – told BBC’s Newsbeat that the changes have been a “long time coming”, adding that, “with the emergence of mental health issues - especially among young people, who are spending the most time on these platforms - it's really important that we put things in place that can help limit that.”
Grant Blank, an expert from the Oxford Internet Institute, is less optimistic, however. “I wouldn't say it's a radical change or that it's going to really change a lot about the way that most people use Facebook or Instagram,” he said. “It strikes me as a way to balance their corporate interest of keeping people spending as much time as possible on Facebook, while still being responsive to people who find the continual notifications to be disturbing or distracting.”
Blank seems to have a point. Many people don’t actually need Facebook’s notifications to get them onto the app; their thumb automatically seeks the icon as soon as they unlock their phone, and once they’re on the app, the company still holds masses of their data to keep them there as long as possible.
Will knowing how long they’ve been scrolling get people to close Instagram and Facebook? Maybe, but unless the app becomes literally inaccessible, the temptation will still be there to open it right back up.