Is Instagram Harmful to Teen Girls?

Instagram has denied reports that the social media site is harmful to the mental health of teens, following a Wall Street Journal article dated 9/14/2021 that slammed Facebook for knowing Instagram is toxic for teens and not doing anything about it. Nevertheless, the Facebook-owned company subsequently paused its roll out of lnstagram Kids, which is designed for children under 13.

Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, wrote in a Twitter post that this will allow the company time to “work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today.”

The Wall Street Journal, citing a review of internal company documents that included research reports, online employee discussions, and drafts of presentations to senior management, stated that researchers at Instagram’s parent company Facebook identified “the platform’s ill effects” but failed to fix them.

The most damaging and widely reported claim centered on a survey showing the negative effect the social media platform has on teenage girls. According to the data reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, comparisons on Instagram can affect how these young women view and describe themselves. In fact, Instagram made a third of teen girls surveyed feel worse about their body image.

Here is one girl’s story as told by The Journal

About a year ago, teenager Anastasia Vlasova started seeing a therapist. She had developed an eating disorder, and had a clear idea of what led to it: her time on Instagram.

She joined the platform at 13, and eventually was spending three hours a day entranced by the seemingly perfect lives and bodies of the fitness influencers who posted on the app.

“When I went on Instagram, all I saw were images of chiseled bodies, perfect abs, and women doing 100 burpees in 10 minutes,” said Miss Vlasova, now 18, who lives in Reston, Virginia.

The data reviewed by The Wall Street Journal shows researchers inside Instagram were studying this kind of experience, asking whether it was part of a broader phenomenon. Their research uncovered some serious problems: 32% of teen girls said that when they were already feeling bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.

A slide presentation from March 2020, posted to Facebook’s internal message board, indicated that UK girls feel the most negative. Facebook’s research also showed that Instagram affects teen boys, finding that Instagram exacerbated anxiety in 15% of young male respondents and 14% of those said the platform led to sleep issues.

Additionally, three years of internal research includes data that of teenagers who reported having suicidal thoughts, 6% of US users and 13% of British users linked the thinking to Instagram.

Facebook’s Response

“To be clear, I don’t agree with how the Journal has reported on our research,” Mosseri said in a press release from Facebook’s newsroom. “I still firmly believe that it’s a good thing to build a version of Instagram that’s designed to by safe for tweens, but we want to take the time to talk to parents and researchers and safety experts and get more of a consensus for how to move forward.”

Mosseri included a link to a blog post written by Pratiti Raychoudhury, Facebook’s vice president of research, in which Raychoudhury claims that Instagram actually makes most teen girls feel better about themselves.

Raychoudhury emphasized The Wall Street Journal did not note in its story that while girls did struggle with body image after exposure to Instagram, they said they felt better in other areas such as loneliness, sadness, and eating issues. “Body image was the only area where teen girls who reported struggling with the issue said Instagram made it worse as compared to the other 11 areas,” Raychoudhury wrote.

Raychoudhury said The Wall Street Journal “implied that we were hiding this research and that the results are surprising, but that is simply not accurate.” Facebook claims that the newspaper failed to “put specific findings in context” and that the research cited “did not measure causal relationships between Instagram and real-world issues.”

In response to The Wall Street Journal report, Facebook released two slide decks from its internal research on the matter. (One slide is shown above this post.) However, even a quick glance at the data makes it hard to argue with The Journal’s interpretation. And, besides, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard about these issues. It’s clear that Facebook and Instagram has to do something about the mental health problem on their platform.

Do you use Instagram? What has your experience been like? Leave a comment!

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