The Wall Street Journal is out with a damning story about Instagram, pointing to research that it causes real harm to some teenage girls. The kicker: The research obtained by the newspaper comes from the company itself, and executives of parent company Facebook have known about it for a few years, according to the Journal. The gist of the story can be captured in snippets of the research:
- "Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse," company researchers wrote in a 2020 slide presentation. "Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves."
- "We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls." This slide was written in 2019.
- "Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression," said yet another slide from 2019. "This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups." Of teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% in Britain and 6% in the US blamed Instagram.
- In public: The story contrasts stats such as those (there are more) with public statements made by Mark Zuckerberg and other execs. For example, in March 2021, Zuckerberg 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"; he had specifically been asked about children. And Instagram chief Adam Mosseri said in May that the app's impact on teens' well-being is probably "quite small."
- First person: The story includes interviews with teens who share their own experiences of how the app made them feel bad about their bodies and about their lives in general. It suggests that Facebook is reluctant to tinker with addicting aspects of Instagram because the audience of teen girls is so vital to its business.
- In response: In a blog post responding to the article, Instagram's head of public policy, Karina Newton, said the company is actively working to steer users away from harmful content. "We’re cautiously optimistic that these nudges will help point people towards content that inspires and uplifts them, and to a larger extent, will shift the part of Instagram’s culture that focuses on how people look." She also said the story "focuses on a limited set of findings and casts them in a negative light."
- Another scoop: On Monday, in another story based on internal communications, the Journal found that Facebook exempts millions of celebs, politicians, and other elite users from the community standards it imposes on others. "We are not actually doing what we say we do publicly,” said the confidential review obtained by the Journal.
(Read the Instagram story in full here