Instagram admits making teen girls’ body image worse
... and UK girls most suicidal, reveals leak
BOSSES knew Instagram could be toxic for teenage girls despite publicly playing down the effect it had on them, leaked internal documents have revealed.
Studies by the photo-sharing app repeatedly found content was causing serious damage to many young users – sending some spiralling into eating disorders or depression.
Researchers said a third of girls suffering with body image issues felt worse after using the app.
Among teens with suicidal thoughts, 13 per cent of British users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram – double the level in the US.
The Wall Street Journal said it had been given access to five internal presentations at Instagram’s parent company Facebook over 18 months from 2019. Despite the warnings, executives from Instagram and Facebook either minimised the effects or boasted of the ‘positive mental health benefits’ the app had on young people.
In the UK, there are estimated to be over 1.5million Instagram users aged between 13 and 17, with around two-thirds of these girls.
The father of Molly Russell, of Harrow, north-west London, who took her life after viewing graphic selfharm and suicide images on Instagram, last night told the Mail: ‘I’m shocked. Facebook knows about the dangers on its platforms, particularly those to young females on Instagram, and yet it says one thing in public and something very different behind its closed doors. It’s vital that they are open and honest about this so that we can learn the lessons to keep young and vulnerable safe online.’
The Wall Street Journal said Facebook conducted a ‘teen mental health deep dive’ looking at the impact of Instagram on users. Researchers consistently found that Instagram specifically – not social media more broadly – was harmful for a sizeable percentage of young users, particularly teenage girls.
They reported that the app’s particular focus on body and lifestyle – with users pressured to look perfect and share only their best moments – was most harmful.
Research, posted to Facebook’s internal message board in March 2020, suggested it could send teens spiralling towards eating disorders, an unhealthy sense of their own bodies and depression. It was accompanied by the finding that ‘32 per cent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies Instagram made them feel worse. Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.’ One slide was titled: ‘One in five teens say that Instagram makes them feel worse about themselves, with UK girls the most negative’.
Another presentation in 2019 said: ‘Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression.’ The research is said to have been reviewed by top Facebook executives and cited in a 2020 presentation given to chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.
However, the company outwardly painted a rather different picture. Mr Zuckerberg defended it from criticism over plans to create an Instagram for children aged under 13 in March. He told a Congressional hearing: ‘The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental health benefits.’
Instagram chief Adam Mosseri told reporters in May that research he had seen suggested its effects on teen well-being was likely ‘quite small’. Instagram yesterday said the newspaper investigation focused on a ‘limited set of findings and casts them in a negative light’.
Public policy chief Karina Newton said the research overall showed the effects of social media on users were mixed, adding ‘Many find it helpful one day and problematic the next.’
‘Mental health deep dive’