Facebook’s own study ‘shows harm Instagram causes girls’
Facebook has kept internal research secret for two years which suggests its Instagram app makes body image issues worse for teenage girls, according to a leak from the tech firm.
Since at least 2019, staff at the company have been studying the impact of their product on its younger users’ states of mind. Their research has repeatedly found it is harmful for a large proportion, and particularly teenage girls.
“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said a slide from one internal presentation in 2019, seen by the Wall Street Journal. “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” a subsequent presentation reported in March 2020.
Another slide said: “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”
Compiled from focus-group findings, online surveys and diary studies in 2019 and 2020, the research shows for the first time how aware Instagram is of its impact on the mental health of teenagers. And yet, in public, executives at Facebook, which has owned Instagram since 2012, have consistently downplayed this.
"Aspects of Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm,” said one internal report, which warned that pressure to share only the best moments and to look perfect can pitch teenagers into depression, low self-esteem and eating disorders.
Among the most concerning findings was that among users who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% in the UK and 6% in the US traced them back to Instagram.
Facebook declined to comment, but sent the Guardian a link to a blog post by Instagram’s head of public policy, Karina Newton. “Issues like negative social comparison and anxiety exist in the world, so they’re going to exist on social media too,” Newton said. “That doesn’t change the fact that we take these findings seriously, and we set up a specific effort to respond to this research and change Instagram for the better.”