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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Facebook hides its research which revealed Instagram is toxic for teens

Facebook’s internal research has revealed that Facebook and Instagram affect the mental and physical health of teenagers to the point of self-harm. The Wall Street Journal has accessed the research details and reported that it showed teenagers were affected by increased levels of anxiety and depression because of using Instagram. Yet Facebook has decided to continue with launching Instagram Youth, for kids under 13.

Facebook has been pulled up by the American lawmakers for putting profit before the wellbeing of children by going ahead with the launch of Instagram Youth. American senators leading the Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security Committee had written to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in August, asking him to release “Facebook’s internal research on the mental health and well-being concerns its social media apps might have on children and teens.” Facebook responded with a six page letter but didn’t mention the findings about its research at all.

“Facebook provided evasive answers that were misleading and covered up clear evidence of significant harm” the senators said. Now WSJ has accessed the contents of this research and published a report in it. The leaked research details in the WSJ report reveal that,

  • Facebook makes body-image issues worse for one in three teenage girl
  • Teenagers blamed Instagram for increased levels of anxiety and depression
  • In 2020, research found 32% of teenage girls surveyed said when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse
  • Some 13% of UK teenagers and 6% of US users surveyed traced a desire to kill themselves to Instagram

The research was done by conducting multiple focus groups, online surveys and diary studies for the past few years. Tens of thousands of users were surveyed by linking user responses and the data Instagram already had on what’s viewed by whom and when. The research also reveals that even though Instagram tried to introduce new options like hiding the like button they were useless. Girls using Instagram felt the pressure to keep themselves fit and beautiful like the Instagram celebrities who get more likes and followers.

While not disputing the research details revealed by WSJ, Instagram has published a blog defending it’s research. Karina Newton, Head of Public Policy at Instagram wrote that the “story focuses on a limited set of findings and casts them in a negative light” but they stand by their research. She defended the findings saying that social media can be both good or bad for people and they want to make sure people feel good about the platform. However she accepted that Instagram “can be a place where people have negative experiences”.

This has been criticised as playing down the seriousness of the issue for profit. MP Damian Collins, chairing the UK parliamentary committee on big technology regulation for user safety, criticised it saying, “The Wall Street Journal Facebook files investigation has exposed how the company, time and again, puts profit before harm. Its own research is telling it that a large number of teen Instagram users say the service makes them feel worse about themselves. But the company just wants to make sure they keep coming back.” 

Andy Burrows, the head of child safety online in UK National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, accused the firm of not acting on the information they had at hand to make the site safe and instead “obstructing researchers, regulators, and government and run a PR [public-relations] and lobbying campaign in an attempt to prove the opposite.”

The issue has been boiling since March when the news of Facebook developing Instagram Youth was reported. American lawmakers have since been pushing it’s CEO Zuckerberg to cancel the program and it has only gotten vigorous now that a research has proved their point that it’s harmful for children.

(Featured Image Source: Softloom)

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