Instagram internal research: ‘We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls’

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Facebook knows how much Instagram is hurting teen mental health

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How bad is Instagram for the mental health of its young users? It’s a very important question, especially as Facebook plans to launch a version of the app for kids.


a new report from wall street journal The answer states “too bad” based on internal research done by Facebook that it’s not ready to share with the public. NS WSJ recently Gained access to these in-depth studies paint a bleak picture of the harmful effects Instagram has on its young users, especially teenage girls.

For this latter group, Instagram is a powerful engine for “social comparison”—when one judges one’s own worth, attractiveness, and success based on comparisons with others. Teenage girls are often blasted on Instagram with images of the ideal body that show up in the form of ads, images in their feeds and content in the app’s Explore page. This often has a negative impact on the mental health of these users. As stated in a slide from an internal Facebook presentation: “We find body image issues worse for one in three teenage girls.” (This figure refers to teens who already reported any type of body image issues.)

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report from wall street journal Is worth a readBut here are some highlights from Facebook’s internal research on Instagram’s impact on young users:

  • A study by Facebook of teen Instagram users in the US and UK found that more than 40 percent of those who felt “unattractive” said the feelings started when using Instagram.
  • Research reviewed by top Facebook executives concluded that Instagram was engineered for more “social comparison” than rival apps like TikTok and Snapchat. TikTok is more focused on performance and Snapchat keeps the focus on the jokey filter “on the face.” Instagram, by comparison, exposes users’ bodies and lifestyles more often.
  • Teens told Facebook researchers that they felt “addicted” to Instagram and wanted to check it less often, but didn’t have the self-control to rein in their use.
  • “Teenagers tend to blame Instagram for increasing rates of anxiety and depression,” said internal research presented in 2019 by Facebook, and that “this response was unpublished and consistent across all groups.”
  • Facebook found that of teens who said they had suicidal thoughts, 13 percent of UK users and 6 percent of US users said these impulses could be tracked back to the app.

Such findings are significant in their own right, but become particularly damaging to Facebook when compared to its public statements. In form of WSJ The company’s top executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have been questioned by politicians such as Senator Richard Blumenthal over the effects of its apps on young users, but revealed nothing like the detailed conclusions made by its internal studies. According to WSJ, the company told senators that its research was proprietary and kept confidential “to promote open and open dialogue and to brainstorm internally.”

Sen Blumenthal told WSJ In an email: “Facebook’s answers were so clear – failing to answer all of our questions – that they really raised the question of what Facebook might be hiding. […] It looks like Facebook is taking a page out of Big Tobacco’s textbook — targeting teens with potentially dangerous products while publicly masquerading as science.

Facebook has attempted to tackle these issues through changes to Instagram’s user interface, such as an experiment to hide the count (a metric that teens told Facebook worried them). But the company said that the impact of this change is not visible.

“It turns out it didn’t really change nearly as much … how people felt, or how much they used the experience as we thought it would,” Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, told reporters in May. “But it was very polarizing in the end. Some people really liked it, and some people really didn’t.” Instead of rolling out the change to all users, Instagram defaulted to like counts but gave users option to turn them off.

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