The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published an internal Facebook study that found Instagram harms the health of teenage girls, which was condemned by US lawmakers. However, Facebook justifies and refutes its own findings – saying the documents relate only to internal product development.
What is Instagram?
Instagram is an American photo and video sharing social network founded by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger and was acquired by Facebook in April 2012.
The app allows users to upload media that can be edited with filters and sorted by hashtags and geotagging. Posts can be shared publicly or with pre-approved followers. Users can browse other users’ content by tag and location, and view trending content.
Instagram is in the top 3 social networks with the most users in the world (after Facebook and YouTube). As of the end of 2020, this social network has more than 1.16 billion users, more than 40% of which are under the age of 22. Targeting a young audience is considered the key to Instagram’s success.
How toxic is Instagram for teenagers?
Facebook has repeatedly found that its Instagram app is harmful to some teenagers, according to a WSJ report published recently. The journal cited Facebook studies over the past three years that looked at how Instagram affects young users, with teenage girls being harmed the most.
Among teenagers who have reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of users in the UK and 6% of users in the US have followed the issue via Instagram, an internal Facebook presentation said.
“32% of teenage girls say they feel dissatisfied with their bodies, and Instagram makes them feel worse,” the researchers wrote. Facebook also reports that 14% of boys in the US say Instagram makes them feel worse about themselves.
According to the report, researchers warn Instagram’s Explore page, which serves users to curate posts from multiple accounts, could expose users to potentially harmful content. The app also suggests posting only the best photos and moments and it works like an addictive product. According to the WSJ, the study said: “Aspects of Instagram are exacerbated to create a perfect depression storm.” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg knows and understands this report. However, Facebook still keeps users engaged with the full features of the platform.
Facebook avoids the problem
The WSJ’s report has unsettled US lawmakers, with Representative Lori Trahan saying children’s mental health concerns related to social media use are his top priority. He had previously blamed Facebook for taking this matter lightly.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committees, also said the mental health of children online is a central issue she pursues. In a statement on November 16, she said Facebook had “refused to comply” with a request to study the product’s impact on children’s mental health. However, Facebook immediately issued a defense, saying that the data was taken out of context, that it was subjective and that it could not prove anything about Instagram.
In a blog post, Instagram’s head of policy, Karina Newton, said the company is working on ways to distract users from paying attention to certain types of Instagram posts. “We are looking for ways to urge users to view different topics if they are constantly viewing this type of content,” says Newton. We’ll help direct people to content that inspires and uplifts them, and to a larger extent, changes part of the culture of Instagram, which is centered around how people see people.”
After the Journal’s report, many US congressmen called on Facebook to “immediately abandon its plan to dedicate Instagram to children”, instead focusing on protecting users of this age.