Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in early 2012. Instagram was a popular platform for teens then who had stopped using Facebook’s main app. Facebook saw Instagram’s acquisition as the perfect social network to attract young people and the apps race for perfection started taking a toll on the mental health of its teenage users.
New documents seen by the Wall Street Journal report that Facebook knew about Instagram’s social comparison which is when people assess their own value in relation to the attractiveness, wealth and success of others and its harmful effect on teens.
“Instagram is well-positioned to resonate and win with young people. There is a path to growth if Instagram can continue their trajectory,” reads multiple slides posted internally.
The giant social network has downplayed the negative effects Instagram continuously has on teens. They don’t post their internal research public or share it with lawmakers and academics when asked.
“Facebook’s answers were so evasive—failing to even respond to all our questions—that they really raise questions about what Facebook might be hiding. Facebook seems to be taking a page from the textbook of Big Tobacco—targeting teens with potentially dangerous products while masking the science in public,” said Sen. Blumenthal.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO even said at March 2021 congressional that the research they’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental health benefits when he was asked about mental health and children.
Adam Mosseri recently shared with reporters that research he had seen suggested that the app’s effects on teen’s well-being are likely “quite small.”
“Thirty-two per cent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse. Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves,” researchers said in a March 2020 slide presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board as seen by the WSJ.
“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.’
“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups,’ reads some of the slides.
The presentations also showed that teenage users traced their suicidal thoughts to Instagram. Adam agrees that some of Instagram’s features could be harmful to some young users, and they aren’t easily addressed.
“For me, this isn’t dirty laundry. I’m actually very proud of this research,” he adds.
The studies which are called “teen mental health deep dive” were conducted by researchers who are Facebook employees in areas including data science, marketing and product development who work on a range of issues related to how users interact with the platform.
The research adds that social comparison is worse on Instagram as it focuses heavily on the body and lifestyle when compared to its rivals like TikTok which grounds itself on performance while Snapchat keeps the focus on the face.
The deep-dive reports that Instagram’s main features are the most harmful to teens which include but are not limited to the tendency to share only the best moments, a pressure to look perfect and an addictive product can send teens spiralling toward eating disorders, an unhealthy sense of their own bodies and depression.
The research warns that the algorithmically curated photos and videos on the Explore page can send users deep into content that can be harmful.
“If you believe that R.J. Reynolds should have been more truthful about the link between smoking and lung cancer, then you should probably believe that Facebook should be more upfront about links to depression among teen girls,” said Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University after learning about the Facebook’s internal research.
She has published research finding that social media is harmful to some kids.
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