Facebook and Instagram introduce ‘time well spent’ features
Facebook is taking an important first step in helping users figure out how much time they spend on these sites. But some outside experts are skeptical that it will make an immediate difference.
“It represents a meaningful start, but it’s not clear how effective the tool is going to be,” said Brian A. Primack, director of the center for research on media, technology and health at the University of Pittsburgh. Primack is one of the foremost academics studying the link between social media and well-being.
Primack pointed out that it’s not clear from the research that providing feedback will change behavior — if users are even aware that the features exist. Warning labels, for instance, are everywhere but aren’t particularly effective in conveying information to people to balance the risks and benefits. Who’s to say that kids won’t challenge each other to spend more time on social media apps — and not less?
Primack is also skeptical that it’s enough to measure hours spent on the platform. He pointed to research that suggests that using social media right before bed is more likely to lead to sleep disturbances and that using it in one fell swoop is often better than scattered times throughout the day. So Facebook might have more success in providing feedback on when users are on the app, and not just for how long.
The big question for the company, he suggests, will be to find a balance between helping users avoid negative health outcomes by spending too much time on the platform and violating their privacy. Some, like Time Well Spent’s Harris, believe tech companies need to a step further in introducing default settings rather than expecting users to opt in.