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Framing Digital Wellbeing as a Social Good
This contribution argues that companies such as Apple, Facebook, and Google are increasingly incorporating features that supposedly promote “digital wellbeing” to forestall regulation of their platforms and services. The inclusion of these features, we suggest, frames these commercial platforms as providing a social good by promising to encourage more “intentional” or “mindful” use of social media and mobile devices. Apple’s June 2018 iOS update, for example, included a new function called Screentime, which incorporates features similar to other digital wellbeing mobile apps including the ability to impose time limits on the use of specific apps and data analytics on amount of time a user spends on their device. The introduction of these features demonstrates how oft-critiqued platforms are increasingly adopting the language of their critics in order to frame themselves as a social good. This strategy mimics that used by radio executives in the United States in the early 20th century, where the medium developed as a fully commercial enterprise. To avoid regulation, it became necessary to perpetuate the perception that commercial broadcasters were also a social good that fulfilled a public service function. Popular entertainment programming was thus supplemented with “high culture” music programmes (e.g., classical music), news, and “home services” shows. Platforms today, we assert, are inadvertently or purposefully adopting a similar tactic to position themselves as leaders in a developing digital wellness market in the hopes of avoiding future governmental regulation.