Top Facebook officials were aware that Instagram, the popular photo-based social media platform that it owns, can have a negative impact on mental health, body image and more for teenagers, particularly teenage girls, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Researchers who work for the social media giant found that some of the problems were specific to Instagram and not social media as a whole for teens, according to the Journal.
“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” researchers shared in a March 2020 slide presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board, reviewed by the Journal. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”
In a study of teens in the U.S. and the U.K., Facebook found that over 40% of Instagram users who reported feeling “unattractive” traced that feeling back to the platform.
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The research from Facebook does indicate that not all teens experience harmful effects from using the app. For many, connecting with peers and expressing themselves outweighed potential “negative social comparison.”
Karina Newton, head of public policy at Instagram, said in a statement responding to the Journal’s reporting, “While the story focuses on a limited set of findings and casts them in a negative light, we stand by this research.
“It demonstrates our commitment to understanding complex and difficult issues young people may struggle with, and informs all the work we do to help those experiencing these issues,” her statement continued.
She also said that “social media isn’t inherently good or bad for people” and that research on the effects of social media is “mixed.”
Some of the research published by the Journal was cited in presentations given to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., in August requested that Zuckerberg release Facebook’s internal research on mental health impacts on young people. Facebook sent the senators a six-page letter that did not include its own studies, the Journal noted.
Blumenthal and Blackburn, who are chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security, on Tuesday announced that the subcommittee “would take additional steps to look into Facebook’s knowledge of its platforms’ negative impact on teenagers and young users,” according to a news release.
Instagram declined to comment on the announcement from Sens. Blumenthal and Blackburn.