A teenage girl with a mobile phone. One slide of the document stated: “Teens blame Instagram” for rising anxiety and depression rates.
Facebook has kept secret two years worth of internal research that suggested its Instagram application makes teenage girls’ bodies image issues worse, according to a leak.
The company has been studying the psychological effects of the product on their younger customers since at least 2019. The company’s research repeatedly showed that the product is dangerous for many people, particularly teenage girls.
“We make body issues worse for one-third of teenage girls,” stated a slide from an internal presentation that was published in 2019 by the Wall Street Journal. In March 2020, a second presentation showed that 32 percent of teens girls claimed that Instagram made their body problems worse.
Another slide said that “Teens blame Instagram” for the increase in anxiety and depressive symptoms. This response was spontaneous and unaffected across all groups.
The Instagram research was compiled of findings from focus group, online surveys, diary studies and other sources in 2019, 2020. This shows how much the company is aware of the impact of its product on the mental health and well-being of teens. In public, however, executives at Facebook have always downplayed their negative impact on teens.
Mark Zuckerberg was Facebook’s chief executive in March. He claimed that social media was more likely than not to have positive mental effects. Adam Mosseri of Instagram was in charge of the research and stated that he had not seen any evidence that it had an impact on teens’ mental well-being.
In a deep dive into mental health, marketing and product design executives as well as data scientists from Facebook found that some of the issues, such social comparison, were unique to Instagram. They are not easily replicated on other platforms.
“Aspects Instagram magnify each other to create the perfect storm,” according to one internal report. This said that teenagers could succumb to pressure to share only the best moments, to appear perfect, and lead to depression, low self esteem, and eating disorders.
The most disturbing finding was that Instagram was used by 13% in the UK to trace suicidal thoughts back to them, and 6% in the US. Another transatlantic survey found that over 40% of Instagram’s users who felt “unattractive,” and nearly 25% of those who felt “not good enough”, reported the feeling to have started on Instagram.
Facebook’s internal conclusions echo several studies that suggest social media is responsible for an epidemic in mental disorders among young people. YoungMinds (and the Royal Society for Public Health) published research that identified Instagram as the social network with the greatest negative impact upon young people’s mental wellness. Emma Thomas, chief executive at the charity, said that social media was beneficial, but it also brought with it increased pressures.
Thomas said, “Being surrounded constantly by images of perfection and perfect bodies can also impact how you feel and look at your life.”
A spokesperson from 5Rights Foundation that advocates for digital services being made more accessible to children, stated: “Facebook’s own research is an indictment on the carelessness of it and the wider tech sector with children.
“In pursuit of profits these companies are stealing kids’ time, self-esteem, mental and sometimes even fatally their lives… This is an entirely human-made universe, largely privately owned and designed to optimise commercial purposes. It doesn’t have be like this. It’s time to first optimise for safety, rights, wellbeing, and profit.
Facebook declined to comment. However, the Guardian was sent a link by Karina Newton, Instagram’s head for public policy, to a blog post . She said that the WSJ story focused on a “limited set of results and casts them as a negative.”
Newton said, “Issues of anxiety and social comparison are all around the world.” “This does not change the fact we take these findings serious, and we have set up a specific effort respond to this research to change Instagram for better.”