Instagram tests ‘Take a Break’ reminders on an opt-in basis

Instagram head Adam Mosseri announced today the company has begun testing a new feature this week called “Take a Break,” which will allow users to remind themselves to take a break from using the app after either 10, 20 or 30 minutes, depending on their preferences. As an opt-in feature, however, the reminders may have a limited impact, as users would have to be motivated to set up the new control for themselves.

The company had previously said it was looking into “Take a Break” reminders. Mosseri, for instance, mentioned the coming addition when commenting on Instagram’s decision to pause the development of a version of its service for younger users, Instagram for Kids. He referenced Instagram’s plans to build in “nudges” and “reminders,” like “Take a Break,” as an example of how Instagram was addressing issues related to its product’s impact on users’ mental health.

Meta’s (previously, Facebook’s) Global Head of Security Antigone Davis also referenced Instagram’s  “Take a Break” reminders when the company was grilled in a Senate hearing over teen mental health back in September. He said the idea with the feature was to encourage users to stop looking at the app after they had been browsing for too long, and cited it as one of the many ways the company was working to improve the experiences of young people using its platform.

But similar to Instagram’s experiment with removing Like counts from posts, which it also ultimately decided to make an opt-in feature, these new “break” reminders won’t likely impact platform usage, as they’re not being made the default experience. In addition, it’s unclear if users will adopt the feature, given that iOS and Android’s built-in screen time controls already allow device owners to set limits on the time spent in mobile apps either on an individual basis or by category, like “social.”

Instagram, in other words, appears to want credit for building mental health features without actually going so far as to make any universal changes that would impact its app usage.

This is not the first time Instagram has pulled such a stunt. In 2018, Instagram rolled out a “You’re All Caught Up” notice that appeared when you reached the end of all the new content from the past two days on your Instagram Feed. But last year, Instagram regressed and decided to use the space below the “You’re All Caught Up” notice to push suggested posts and ads in an attempt to keep users engaged even after they had reached a stopping point.

If Instagram was serious about addressing mental health, it could designate a time to show users a reminder within its app, and then offer controls that would allow users to turn it off or adjust the duration. Its competitor TikTok already does this by inserting videos into users’ For You feeds that suggest it’s time to take a break after the user has been scrolling for too long. TikTok also leverages influencers with millions of followers to issue these warnings, which can be more effective than just a pop-up notification.

Mosseri says the new “Take a Break” reminders are launching this week as a test with a limited number of users, for the time being, but the company expects to roll out the feature publicly in the coming months.