Instagram unveils new teen safety tools ahead of congressional hearing

Instagram rolled out several new features aimed at improving the safety of its teenage users, including an option that prevents people from tagging or mentioning teens and another that urges them to take a break from the app, ahead of a congressional hearing with the company’s chief executive.

Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, said in a blog post published early Tuesday that parents will be able to see how much time their teens spend on the social media app and set time limits. These new features will launch in March, which also includes the ability for teens to notify their parents if they report someone. 

"This is the first version of these tools; we’ll continue to add more options over time," Mosseri wrote in the post.

Instagram is also rolling out a "Take a Break" feature, which asks users to stop using Instagram if they have been scrolling for a certain amount of time. The tool, which needs to be turned on, launched Tuesday in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia and will be available elsewhere by early 2022, according to the company.

Another feature will stop people from tagging or mentioning teenage users that don’t follow them.

"We’re testing these changes to further minimize the possibility that teens will hear from those they don’t know, or don’t want to hear from, and plan to make them available to everyone early next year," Mosseri wrote.

The app will also start nudging teens toward different topics if they’ve been dwelling on one topic for a while.

16x9 take a break

Instagram has launched the “Take a Break” feature, which has to be enabled. If someone has been scrolling for a certain amount of time, the app will ask them to take a break from Instagram and suggest that they set reminders to take more breaks in th

The new tools were released a day before Mosseri is scheduled to appear before a Senate panel as part of a series of hearings on protecting children online, according to the New York Times. Mosseri on Wednesday is expected to face questions about whether apps like Instagram harm teens amid heightened scrutiny on Facebook — renamed Meta — its parent company. 

RELATED: Facebook whistleblower says platform making online hate worse

Facebook has weathered backlash about not doing enough to rein in harmful content and faces new legislation looking to impose restrictions on tech giants. 

Former Facebook product manager turned whistleblower Frances Haugen has testified to U.S. and European lawmakers working on new legislation, citing internal company research suggesting that peer pressure generated by Instagram has led to mental health and body-image problems in young users, especially girls, and in some cases, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts.

Haugen spoke again last week to Congress, urging U.S. lawmakers to "act now" on proposals introduced after her first appearance in October. That includes restrictions on the long-standing legal protections for speech posted on social media platforms.

"Facebook wants you to get caught up in a long, drawn-out debate over the minutiae of different legislative approaches. Please don’t fall into that trap," Haugen testified on Dec. 1. "Time is of the essence. There is a lot at stake here. You have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create new rules for our online world. I came forward, at great personal risk, because I believe we still have time to act. But we must act now."

Haugen also has offered guidance on new online rules that are much further along in the U.K. and European Union, which has pioneered efforts to rein in big technology companies.

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.