Facebook conducted research finding that Instagram was harmful to teenage girls but hid the data and cited public studies that contradicted their own findings, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Facebook executives have repeatedly pointed to studies by the Oxford Internet Institute that found little correlation between social media use and depression but its own research found that Instagram use can contribute to depression and suicidal thoughts among teenage girls.
“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the researchers said in a March 2020 presentation. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”
The company has been studying its effects on millions of young users for three years.
“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” one 2019 presentation slide said.
“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”
Increase in suicidal thoughts:
One of the presentations showed that among teens who reported having suicidal thoughts, 6% of American users and 13% of British users traced their desire to kill themselves to Instagram, according to the report.
More than 40% of Instagram users are 22 years old or younger and about 22 American teens use the platform each day, more than four times as much as Facebook, which owns Instagram.
“Instagram is well positioned to resonate and win with young people,” said presentation slide said. Another said, “There is a path to growth if Instagram can continue their trajectory.”
The researchers found that some of the problems were specific to Instagram rather than social media more broadly. “Aspects of Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm,” the researchers said.
Facebook downplayed findings:
The company did not provide the data to Congress when they requested documents on Facebook’s internal research into its impact on youth mental health and executives repeatedly downplayed what their own research showed.
“The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified to Congress in March.
Instagram chief Adam Mosseri insisted that the effects on teens were “quite small.”
“In no way do I mean to diminish these issues,” he told the Journal. “Some of the issues mentioned in this story aren’t necessarily widespread, but their impact on people may be huge.”
“I think anything and everything should be on the table,” Mosseri said. “But we have to be honest and embrace that there’s trade-offs here. It’s not as simple as turning something off and thinking it gets better, because often you can make things worse unintentionally.”