Instagram’s ‘nightly nudge’ may be a step toward healthy social media habits

Jan 26, 2024, 5:00 AM | Updated: 5:12 am

instagram nightly nudge...

The Instagram logo is being displayed on a smartphone among other social media networks in this photo illustration in Brussels, Belgium, on January 22, 2024. (Photo Illustration: Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

(Photo Illustration: Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The average teenager spends approximately five hours per day on social media and Meta, Facebook’s parent company, seeks to bring that number down with the launch of Instagram’s “nightly nudge.”

The nudge is a new parent-controlled feature that Instagram is rolling out on its platform. It will appear after 10 minutes of “doom scrolling” — internet slang for the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through sad or disheartening news — on Instagram reels or direct messaging.

It was launched to encourage kids to get off the platform and go to sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, a majority of Americans use electronic devices within an hour of going to bed causing unsatisfactory sleep. Decreasing exposure to blue electronic light in the evening can lead to quality rest, especially among kids and teenagers.

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Forty Attorneys General, including Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, have joined a bipartisan multi-state lawsuit against Meta for allegedly targeting kids with addictive features like video reels and direct messages. Ferguson described the suit as one of the “most robust multi-state efforts our office has ever seen or been a part of.”

Nick Norman, a local social worker with Mindful Therapy Group, said it’s easy to become addicted to social media.

“Teenagers are being drawn to something that looks interesting or appealing,” Norman told MyNorthwest. “And then the algorithm is recommending more of that to them. And so it grabs their attention pulls them in more, and it hijacks our dopamine system.”

The dangers of ‘hijacking’ dopamine

Dopamine is a chemical produced by our brains that plays a starring role in motivating behavior, according to Harvard University’s “Science in the News.” It gets released after taking a bite of delicious food, during sex, after exercise and throughout successful social interactions. Smartphones can take advantage of people’s dopamine-driven desire for social validation, experts warn, with phones optimizing the balance of negative and positive feedback signals until someone has become a habitual user.

Instagram’s nighttime nudge was created to help break this pattern among those who are more impressionable.

“Folks are going to continue scrolling,” Norman said. “But I think you can compare it to, for example, the thing that Netflix developed a few years ago — Are you still watching? — instead of that auto-continuous play. You then have to hit dismiss to continue watching ’30 Rock’ or ‘Parks and Recreation.'”

Norman stated that therapists are just now beginning to understand what’s causing limited attention spans in kids as a result of social media.

“Some are linking it back to that lowered self-esteem,” Norman added. “It’s also, to be frank, that kind of hijacking of the dopamine system, it is the root of addiction. It has a real impact on teenagers. There’s a number of different avenues that, teens are exposed to (online).”

Social comparison hurting teens

Norman claimed that an inherent comparison occurs when someone sees a curated lifestyle portrayed online. Comparing one’s self to others is built into people’s neurobiology, but with social media, social comparison can be a form of sociological self-esteem.

“It’s important for us to understand the comparison element,” Norman said. “We have to understand this is something that we deal with as human beings, but it’s been blown out of proportion online.”

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Additionally, while it’s not uncommon to see social media influencers use filters to alter or beautify their appearance online, but higher-profile influencers, with large budgets at their disposal, are taking it a step further by curating a specific lifestyle on their social pages.

“Very curated images and presences online and there is a bit of a comparison element of ‘why don’t I look like that?’ ‘Why doesn’t my life look like that?’ ‘How come I’m not going on these kinds of trips?'” Norman said. “It creates a bit of a false understanding of what the reality is for the rest of us and what living really is.”

Too much comparing online and it becomes a slippery slope. So what can parents do? Implement the nightly nudge.

You can read more of Micki Gamez’s stories here. Follow Micki on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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Instagram’s ‘nightly nudge’ may be a step toward healthy social media habits