Facebook’s internal research into Instagram has reportedly raised serious concerns about the photo-sharing app’s impact on the mental health of teenagers, especially adolescent girls.
In studies conducted over the past three years, Facebook researchers have found that Instagram is “harmful for a sizable percentage” of young users, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
Research presented in 2019 reportedly found that Instagram makes body image issues worse for one in three teenage girls.
Teens also said Instagram increased rates of anxiety and depression, reported the WSJ, citing internal company documents.
On Tuesday, Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said it stands by its research to understand young people’s experiences on the app.
“The question on many people’s minds is if social media is good or bad for people,” wrote Karina Newton, head of public policy at Instagram, in a blog post. “The research on this is mixed; it can be both. At Instagram, we look at the benefits and the risks of what we do.”
Newton added that Instagram has done “extensive work around bullying, suicide and self-injury, and eating disorders” to make the app a safe place for everyone. The company is also focused on addressing negative social comparison and body image, said Newton, and is developing ways to “jump in if we see people dwelling on certain types of content.”
For years, people have called out apps like Instagram for taking a toll on people’s mental well-being.
In 2017, a survey of almost 1,500 teens and young adults found Instagram is the worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing. While the photo-based platform got points for self-expression and self-identity, it was also associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO – “fear of missing out.”
The #StatusOfMind survey, published by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health, included input from 1,479 young people (ages 14 to 24) from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“Seeing friends constantly on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life,” the #StatusOfMind report stated at the time. “These feelings can promote a ‘compare and despair’ attitude.”
Social media posts can also set unrealistic expectations and create feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, the authors wrote. This may explain why Instagram, where personal photos take center stage, received the worst scores for body image and anxiety. As one survey respondent wrote, “Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect’.”
Instagram has also been criticized by users, advocacy groups and lawmakers for harboring harmful content and fostering anxiety and depression, particularly among younger audiences. Earlier this year, reports revealed Instagram is planning to launch a platform for kids under 13.
The Journal report drew criticism of Facebook from lawmakers on Tuesday. Sens. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, and Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said they’d be launching a probe into Facebook’s knowledge of Instagram’s reported negative impact on teens.
“It is clear that Facebook is incapable of holding itself accountable,” the senators said in a statement. “When given the opportunity to come clean to us about their knowledge of Instagram’s impact on young users, Facebook provided evasive answers that were misleading and covered up clear evidence of significant harm.”