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Instagram introduces ‘time spent’ feature to encourage time away from screen

Image credit: Dreamstime

Amid criticism focused on the impact of social media on mental health, Instagram is to introduce a new feature which allows users to see how much time they have spent on the app.

Image-sharing app Instagram was acquired by Facebook in 2012 for $1bn (£740m) and is now estimated to be worth more than $100bn (£74bn). It has over 800 million users and is a particularly popular social network among young people.

Instagram and other social networks have come under increasing criticism, not just because of their use for spreading abusive, violent and misleading content (particularly during the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election), but due to their impact on mental health.

The vast majority of research suggests that social media has a negative impact on mental health, particularly when used excessively. Poor body image, low self-esteem and fear of missing out (FOMO) are frequently cited problems that social media is known to exacerbate in young people.

In a study published in April, the Royal Society for Public Health and the Young Health Movement ranked Instagram as the most psychologically damaging social network. Based on a survey in which participants scored different popular social networks according to their impact on aspects of health and wellbeing, such as body image, anxiety and quality of sleep, Instagram was ranked as the most negative while YouTube was ranked as the most positive.

Under pressure by users and organised groups such as the Centre for Humane Technology - which is led by former Silicon Valley insiders - social media companies are being forced to suggest strategies to lessen the negative impact of their networks on mental health and ensure that time spent on social media is "time well spent".

A new Instagram feature for tracking how much time users spend on the app has been uncovered by computer scientist Jane Manchun Wong, and was first reported by TechCrunch. It has since been confirmed by Kevin Systrom, Instagram CEO.

“We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram – any time should be positive and intentional,” Systrom wrote on Twitter.

The feature, named ‘Usage insights’, will show users how much time per day they spend on the app, as well as their use over longer periods of time.

The unintentional unveiling of the Instagram feature follows Google’s announcement at its I/O developer conference of a tool for Android users which logs time spent every day on different apps and allows users to set their own time limits for phone use.

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