Facebook knew Instagram was toxic for teenage users, according to new report


June Aye | Pixabay

M’Niyah Lynn

A recent report from The Wall Street Journal found that Facebook was aware Instagram created a toxic environment for its users, particularly teenage girls, which would negatively affect their mental health and well-being.

Young women have reported feeling increased levels of anxiety with higher rates of depression and eating disorders because of their Instagram usage. Part of the problem is that users on Instagram, a social media platform that is popular among celebrities, influencers and friends, help portray the false and unrealistic reality that people’s lives are perfect, The Wire said.

According to information from researchers that was posted to Facebook’s internal message board, “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” he Wall Street Journal said.

The information, which was found from slides from a March 2020 Facebook presentation, also showed that 13% of British users and 6% of American users connected their suicidal thoughts to Instagram.

Over the years, Instagram has increasingly made people, especially teen girls, concerned over likes which makes posting stressful. “Instagram stopped being a place for friends and family and started becoming a place for everything else,” Mashable said.

Pew Research Center data showed that 73% of people ages 18 to 29 say they use Instagram every day.

Teens have mentioned that compared to other social media platforms, Instagram makes them feel more stressed because they have to think too much about how their feed is coming across, whereas other platforms like Snapchat aren’t as much about comparing themselves to other people.

“I never really post just because it’s too much. Whereas on Snapchat you can just post a selfie and it’s whatever, it’s just Snapchat,” Gabby Rudolph, an 18-year-old student at Arizona State University said to Mashable.

To respond and cope with the negative effects of Instagram use, some teens have taken matters into their own hands, trying to follow positive role models or fully deleting the app and then eventually downloading it again.

However, Facebook is being accused of ignoring the harmful effects of Instagram. For instance, Facebook has recently tried to push for “Instagram Kids,” a platform for kids ages 13 and under. But parents and other organizations have been critical of the decision, arguing that it will just invite children to begin experiencing mental health and self-esteem issues sooner.

“Younger children are even less developmentally equipped to deal with these challenges” and “social media is hard enough on consenting adults. It’s no place for kids,” Bloomberg’s Editorial Board said.

Facebook has also been accused of prioritizing profit over mental health. The Wire said that Facebook swept the findings of the March 2020 research “under the rug to continue conducting business as usual.” The research is from Facebook itself and there have been studies done for years highlighting the effect of social media on mental health, but little has changed.

“Expanding its base of young users is vital to the company’s more than $100 billion in annual revenue, and it doesn’t want to jeopardize their engagement with the platform,” the Wall Street Journalsaid.

Facebook and Instagram gave a mixed response to these allegations and the exposure of their research. Facebook has “half-heartedly” apologized, but also attacked the accuracy of the Wall Street Journal’s reporting, CNBC said.

“These are serious and complex issues, and it is absolutely legitimate for us to be held to account for how we deal with them,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, said in a blog post. “But these stories have contained deliberate mischaracterizations of what we are trying to do, and conferred egregiously false motives to Facebook’s leadership and employees.”

On the other hand, Head of Instagram Adam Missouri paused “Instagram Kids” so the company can work with experts and parents to demonstrate the value and need for the product.