The rise of the Internet and smartphones – and their prevalence especially among the younger generation – has led to a multitude of consequences ranging from data privacy, election tampering to mental health disorders.
The push to address the first two issues began much before the third but this year the momentum seems to be building up to address the social impact of technology and (no pun intended) social media.
In June, Apple introduced “Screen Time,” an activity report that will show how much time users are spending on individual apps and how often they pick up their iPhones. Google announced similar controls in May.
Now, Facebook, which has always been focused on getting users to spend more time, is doing the opposite. Facebook and Instagram will add controls to help people measure how much time they’re spending on the sites, so they can dial it back if they want to. Users can also mute notifications on the apps for a certain period of time, or sign up to get an alert when they’ve been scrolling for too long.
“It’s not just about the time people spend on Facebook and Instagram but how they spend that time,” Facebook said in a blog post. “It’s our responsibility to talk openly about how time online impacts people – and we take that responsibility seriously.”
The move might be considered surprising given that the time a user spends on each platform and the frequency at which they use it are important metrics for marketers. And this decision might very well affect advertising revenue. Facebook, at least, is prepared for that outcome. The company has said that it expects sales growth to slow in the coming years – and revenue fell short of estimates in the second quarter, sending Facebook stock down 19 percent in a day last week.
Perhaps, what’s more important in the long-term is its brand image. The platform has become synonymous with hate speech, fake news, clickbait, virality, etc. Earlier this year, Facebook pledged pledged to change the mix of its news feed to emphasize conversations that are meaningful between friends and family, as opposed to content designed specifically to go viral. This is one of the ways in which the company is working on improving the way people feel about its website. “We want the time people spend on Facebook and Instagram to be intentional, positive and inspiring,” the company said.
As part of this push, Facebook said it convened a summit with online safety experts, researchers and teens in March to talk about technology and how its influencing well-being. It plans to tweak its products to further address concerns like a lack of kindness online.