Dec. 7, 2021 -- Instagram announced new safety features for the photo-sharing app on Tuesday, one day before the company’s top executive goes before a Senate committee to face questions about Instagram’s effect on young people’s mental health.

One Instagram tool that went live on Tuesday will send “take a break” reminders to let users know they’ve been staring at their phones too long. The feature is available for everybody, but a special prompt will be sent to users under 18, NPR reported.

Other tools will allow parents to see how many hours teens spend on Instagram and to set time limits for them. Teens will have the option of notifying their parents if they report someone and Instagram will set up a new “educational hub” for parents and guardians that will include product tutorials.

In January, a feature will be offered that allows users to delete posts, likes, and comments in bulk.

"I'm proud that our platform is a place where teens can spend time with the people they care about, explore their interests, and explore who they are," Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, wrote in a blog announcing the features.

Mosseri is scheduled to testify Wednesday afternoon before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security.

Instagram has come under harsh scrutiny since a Facebook whistleblower released documents showing Instagram knew the app caused mental health problems in young users. Facebook, now called Meta, owns Instagram.

The internal research released by the whistleblower showed that the platform made body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teenage girls, and 14% of teenage boys said Instagram made them feel worse about themselves. The data linked use of the app with anxiety and depression. And among teens who reported thoughts of suicide, 6% of American users and 13% of British ones tied that impulse directly to Instagram.

NPR reported that one member of the Senate committee says the safety features won’t help much.

"Meta is attempting to shift attention from their mistakes by rolling out parental guides, use timers, and content control features that consumers should have had all along," said Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the top Republican on the committee.

Show Sources

NPR. “Instagram unveils new teen safety tools ahead of Senate hearing”

Instagram. “Raising the Standard for Protecting Teens and Supporting Parents Online”

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