Over the past three years, Facebook has studied how its photo-sharing app Instagram affects the mental health of its millions of young users, and the company’s researchers have repeatedly found that Instagram is toxic for a significant percentage. of them, especially teenage girls, according to internal Facebook documents got by the Wall Street Journal.
“We’re making body image issues worse for one in three teenage girls,” said a slide from a 2019 presentation by researchers that was posted on Facebook’s internal message board and seen by the WSJ.
“Teens blame Instagram for rising rates of anxiety and depression,” said another slide seen by the WSJ. “This reaction was spontaneous and consistent across all groups.”
The Instagram documents are part of a treasure trove of internal Facebook communications reviewed by the WSJ and show that Facebook has made minimal effort to address these issues and is in fact downplaying them for the public.
As part of a series called “The Facebook Files,” the WSJ Monday reported (paywall) that internal Facebook documents have revealed that the social media company has implemented a system that exempts high profile users such as politicians, celebrities and journalists from some or all of its paywall rules. content while publicly asserting that its more than three billion users are given an equal platform.
The program, known as “cross-checking” or “XCheck,” protects millions of VIP users from company guidelines and rules about what content can be removed, the WSJ reported.
Revelations of internal documents outlining Facebook’s research into Instagram’s impact, published Tuesday by the WSJ, appear to be the deepest dive yet into what the tech giant knows about its impact on mental health. teenagers and reveals a gap between Facebook’s understanding of itself and what it reveals to the public.
Among teenagers who said they had thought about suicide, 13% of UK users and 6% of US users traced the desire to kill themselves on Instagram, the WSJ reported after seeing one of the presentation slides.
Over 40% of Instagram users are 22 or younger.
Some 22 million teenagers log on to Instagram every day in the United States, which is far more than the five million teenagers who log on to Facebook.
For Facebook, which paid $1 billion for Instagram in 2012, expanding its young user base has been crucial in recent years as fewer young users turn to Facebook for their media needs. social, show the documents consulted by the WSJ.
“The research we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental health benefits,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg told a congressional hearing in March. , when lawmakers asked him about children and mental health.
Then in May, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri said research suggests the app’s effects on teenage mental health are “pretty small”.
The dive into Instagram’s impact consists of focus groups, newspaper studies, and surveys of tens of thousands of people. In five presentations over 18 months, researchers found that some of the issues were specific to Instagram, not social media in general, according to the WSJ.
“Social comparison is worse on Instagram,” Facebook’s research says, referring to users’ tendency to compare themselves to others posting on the site.
While other apps such as TikTok, a short video app, are performance-based, Instagram focuses on body and lifestyle. According to internal research, the pressure to look perfect and have an ideal lifestyle could send teens on a downward spiral toward eating disorders and depression.
“Aspects of Instagram heighten to create a perfect storm,” the research said.
Facebook’s findings were reviewed by company executives and mentioned to Zuckerberg in 2020, according to documents seen by the WSJ.
But when asked last March by lawmakers about Instagram’s impact on young people, Zuckerberg defended the company’s plan to launch an Instagram product for children under 13.
“I believe the answer is ‘yes,'” Zuckerberg told the congressional committee when asked if the company had done any research on Instagram’s effects on children.
And when several senators in August asked Facebook to send them their internal findings on Instagram’s impact on young people’s mental health, Facebook sent a six-page letter but did not include the company’s research. .