Facebook and Instagram introduce new app-based time limits

Mark Zuckerberg and co. have introduced new tools to let users monitor their time on both Facebook and Instagram.

On Facebook this is called, helpfully, “Your time on Facebook”, while on Instagram it’s more enigmatically labelled “Your activity.”

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Both function broadly the same way: at their most passive setting, you’ll just be able to see the amount of time you’ve spent on the app each day in a series of graphs. If that information makes you reassess your life choices, you can step it up a notch and set a time limit for app-usage each day, in increments of five minutes.

Hitting the limit won’t actually stop you using the app like parental controls might. It just tells you when your time is up and leaves it to you to decide what to do about it.

However, users can now also mute notifications from the sites for between 15 minutes and eight hours.

We have a responsibility to help people understand how much time they spend on our platforms so they can better manage their experience,” wrote Ameet Ranadive and David Ginsberg of Instagram and Facebook, respectively, in a blog post announcing the features.

Why would Facebook want to actively reduce user engagement? There are a couple of explanations, depending on how cynical you want to be.

Taking the move at face value, there is a growing body of evidence that too much time spent on social apps makes people feel worse in myriad ways. The research on the subject is so thorough that Ginsberg himself revealed the findings on Facebook’s own newsroom in December.

A more cynical person might see this as another part of the PR strategy that has seen the company rail against fake news and misuse of data in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Part of the same media spend that has seen adverts warning about fake news and friends appear on TVs and bus stops all over London.

Related: Delete Facebook

It’s also worth remembering that Apple now lets iPhone users set time limits on apps. If Facebook has to have its highly engaged and valuable audience go cold turkey, you’d better believe it would rather this happened on the company’s own gentle terms.

Are you comfortable with your social media usage? Let us know on Twitter (if you haven’t spent too much time there already today) by tweeting @TrustedReviews.