The social networks join Apple and Google in adding features to track and limit screen time.
Facebook wants to save us from ourselves.
The social network confirmed Wednesday that it is rolling out features to show you exactly how much time you’re wasting on its Facebook and Instagram apps, including an activity dashboard to track how many minutes (or, more likely, hours) you’ve spent eyeballing posts, as well as ways to cap your screen time and limit notifications.
“We want the time people spend on Facebook and Instagram to be intentional, positive and inspiring,” the company explained in a news release. “Our hope is that these tools give people more control over the time they spend on our platforms and also foster conversations between parents and teens about the online habits that are right for them.”
Users can use the Settings page on either app to begin activating these features, which will roll out over the next couple of weeks in the U.S. Tapping “Your Activity” on Instagram and “Your Time on Facebook” on Facebook will bring you to a dashboard showing your average time spent using the app on that device for the past week, as well as how much time you’ve spent on the app each day.
You can also set a daily “limit” below the dashboard — for example, cutting yourself off at 30 minutes or two hours — which you can adjust or cancel as needed. A reminder will then pop up when you’ve reached your daily limit as a gentle nudge to exit the app and stay offline. You can now also set “Mute Push Notifications,” which curbs your Facebook or Instagram alerts for a set period of time when you just need to focus.
The new features back up CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s 2018 resolution to make sure that “the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent,” which has already included changing the News Feed to list the “most relevant” posts from friends and family first, and showing fewer clickbait news stories. Instagram also previously added a “You’re All Caught Up” feature letting users know when they’ve seen every post in their feeds from the past two days.
These tools were announced just the day after the first-quarter 2018 Nielsen Total Audience Report warned that American adults are spending almost half of their days — more than 11 hours — listening to, watching, reading or interacting with media on their phones, tablets, TVs and computers. While television eats up most of our time, the report noted that digital usage on smart devices has increased 13 minutes from last quarter to three hours and 48 minutes a day, with 62% of that time being sucked by app and web usage on smartphones.
A growing body of research suggests that too much screen time, especially on social media, hurts our mental health. A recent U.K. study found that increased social media usage around age 10 leads chips away at teen girls’ self-esteem, and their well-being continues to decline as they reach their teens. More time spent in front of a cell phone or computer screen can lead to increased symptoms of depression and, in severe circumstances, suicide-related behaviors and thoughts in female teens, according to a San Diego State University report. The study suggests that these photo-heavy social networks painting everyone’s lives in the best possible filter can make users feel pressure to look a certain way and keep up with appearances of others. And Instagram has the most negative impact on young people’s health and well-being, according to a 2017 survey of nearly 1,500 people ages 14 to 24 by the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) and the Youth Health Movement.
Apple and Google have also rolled out screen-time management tools for their smartphones. Google’s “Digital Wellbeing” and Apple’s iOS12 “Screen Time” both have dashboards that give an overview of how much time you’ve spent on your phone, and break down how many hours and minutes you’ve spent on specific apps. You can also set self-imposed limits on both phone operating systems capping your time on specific apps. But while you can basically ignore Apple’s pop-ups reminding you that your time is up — similar to how you can ignore Facebook and Instagram’s — Google’s version will actually gray out the app icon on your home screen, and won’t let you access it again unless you go back into the dashboard and manually unlock it.
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