Facebook is aware that Instagram, an image-sharing social media platform it owns, has harmful effects on the self-esteem of teen girls, according to leaked research seen by The Wall Street Journal.
Internal research, documents and research reportedly show that Facebook has studied the harmful effects Instagram can have on its users, especially teen girls, according to the WSJ.
“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” one slide from an internal research report read, with another saying that “teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression.”
“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” another slide shared in Facebook’s internal chats read, according to the WSJ.
Facebook found that over 40% of teens who use Instagram said they feel “unattractive” and attributed that feeling to the social media platform, according to the WSJ. Roughly 25% of teen users who said they felt “not good enough” attributed the feeling to Instagram, the outlet reported.
Researchers found that the Explore page, which suggests content to users based on their browsing preferences, contributes to negative self-esteem and depression by sharing images of idealized and unattainable figures and lifestyles. The research was shared with Mark Zuckerberg in a presentation in March 2020, according to the documents reviewed by the WSJ.
“Teens told us that they don’t like the amount of time they spend on the app but feel like they have to be present,” an Instagram research manager said in internal communications, the WSJ reported. “They often feel ‘addicted’ and know that what they’re seeing is bad for their mental health but feel unable to stop themselves.”
Researchers also found that viewing filtered “selfies” that beautify someone’s face make users feel worse, and that users reported the number of “likes” on a post correlates with their self-esteem, according to the WSJ. Instagram released a feature in 2019 that allowed users to hide the number of likes on a post.
When reached for comment, Facebook directed the Daily Caller News Foundation to a blog post written in response to the reports by Karina Newton, head of public policy at Instagram.
Newton pushed back against the WSJ’s reporting that Facebook knew Instagram was harmful, arguing that the company’s research indicated that the effects of the platform were “mixed.”
“Social media isn’t inherently good or bad for people. Many find it helpful one day, and problematic the next,” Newton said, citing a Harvard study that found social media could have positive and negative effects on users depending on how they utilized the platform. “What seems to matter most is how people use social media, and their state of mind when they use it.”
Newton said Instagram was continuing to develop features to mitigate the harmful effects of its platform. The company unveiled features in February 2021 that point users struggling with eating disorders and negative body image to helpful resources.
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