Instagram unveils new teenager 'safety tools' before US Senate hearing

'Take a Break' feature will encourage young users to stop scrolling on photo-sharing platform

Instagram has launched a feature that urges teenagers to take breaks from the photo-sharing platform and announced other tools aimed at protecting young users from harmful content. AP

Instagram on Tuesday launched a feature that urges teenagers to take breaks from the photo-sharing platform and announced other tools aimed at protecting young users from harmful content on the Facebook-owned service.

The previously announced “Take A Break” feature encourages teenagers to stop scrolling if they have been on the social media platform for a while, Instagram head Adam Mosseri said in a blog post. It became available in the US, UK, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and Australia from Tuesday and will reach the rest of the world early next year, he said.

Young users will see notifications about the feature and be urged to set reminders to take more breaks, the post said. It is one of the efforts that Facebook, renamed Meta Platforms, has touted as it weathers backlash about not doing enough to rein in harmful content and faces new legislation looking to impose restrictions on big tech companies.

"Every day I see the positive impact that Instagram has for young people everywhere," Mr Mosseri said.

"I want to make sure that it stays that way, which means above all keeping them safe on Instagram."

The launch of the new protective features comes a day before a US Senate hearing titled Protecting Kids Online: Instagram and Reforms for Young Users, where Mr Mosseri is scheduled to give evidence.

"After bombshell reports about Instagram's toxic impacts, we want to hear straight from the company's leadership why it uses powerful algorithms that push poisonous content to children driving them down rabbit holes to dark places, and what it will do to make its platform safer," said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat.

Instagram's parent company Meta, which also oversees Facebook, is battling a serious reputational crisis after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked reams of internal documents showing that executives knew of their sites' risks for teenagers' well-being, prompting a renewed US push for regulation.

On Tuesday, Instagram announced that its first tools for parents will become available early next year, allowing them to see how much time their teenagers spend on Instagram and set time limits.

The social media platform said it was developing features that will stop people from tagging or mentioning teenagers who don’t follow them, nudge young users elsewhere when they have focused on one topic for a while and be stricter about which posts, hashtags and accounts it recommends to try to cut down on potentially harmful or sensitive content.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: December 7th 2021, 4:11 PM