Facebook is trying to mend its reputation in the wake of whisleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony, and that includes promises of features lessening the potential harm for teens. CNN and Reuters report that Facebook Global Affairs VP Nick Clegg promised Instagram would introduce a “take a break” feature that encouraged teens to simply stop using the social network for a while. Clegg didn’t say when it would be ready, but this was clearly meant to reduce addiction and other unhealthy behavior.
The social media exec also said Facebook would “nudge” teens away from material in its apps that “may not be conducive to their well-being.” He didn’t provide specifics for this new approach. He did, however, suggest that Facebook’s algorithms should be “held to account,” including by regulation if needed, to be sure real-world results matched intentions.
The new methods might address some of Haugen’s concerns. She claimed Facebook was aware its algorithms were destructive, leading children to harmful material and removing only a fraction of hate speech. Haugen also felt Congress should reform the Communications Decency Act’s Section 230 to increase Facebook’s liability for algorithm-chosen content, and that Facebook should add friction to reduce the virality of content and force users to think about posts rather than share them reflexively.
At the same time, this might not satisfy Haugen and fellow critics. Breaks and nudges may reduce exposure to harmful content, but they won’t remove the content in question. Clegg’s statements also reflect a familiar strategy at Facebook. It likes to invite regulation, but only the regulation it’s comfortable with. While the proposed changes could help, politicians may demand more — in part to prevent Facebook from dictating its own regulation.