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Facebook Stays on the Offensive in Wake of “Toxic” Instagram Claims

Ross Kelly

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Facebook has once again hit back again at reports claiming that Instagram negatively impacts young female users.

A recent expose from the Wall Street Journal revealed that internal Facebook research highlighted the harmful effect Instagram has on users.

Among the key talking points of the reports were findings that showed body image issues were exacerbated among teenage girls who use the platform.

Notably, the WSJ revealed, Facebook was aware of the potentially harmful effects of the photo sharing platform among younger users, but made “minimal effort” to address the problem and actively sought to downplay the severity and extent of the issue.

In the wake of the reports, Facebook questioned the claims. Last week, Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg described the stories as having contained “deliberate mischaracterisations” of the company’s operations, adding that the WSJ “conferred egregiously false motivates to Facebook’s leadership and employees”.

“We don’t shy away from scrutiny and criticism,” he wrote in a blog post. “But we fundamentally reject this mischaracterisation of our work and impugning of the company’s motives.”

Facebook’s latest broadside was fired this weekend by Pratiti Raychoudhury, Vice President & Head of Research at the social media giant.

According to Raychoudhury, the WSJ appears to have misinterpreted data from Facebook’s internal research, adding that claims by the publication were “not accurate”.

“It is simply not accurate that this research demonstrates that Instagram is “toxic” for teen girls. The research actually demonstrated that many teens we heard from feel that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling,” she wrote.

In particular, Raychoudhury questioned the WSJ decision to frame reports around research which included just 40 subjects and insisted that Facebook carries out research to “minimise the bad” on its platforms and “maximise the good”.

“We invest in this research to proactively identify where we can improve,” Raychoudhury wrote. “It is also critical to make the nature of this research clear.”

“This research, some of which relied on input from only 40 teens, was designed to inform internal conversations about teens’ most negative perceptions of Instagram. It did not measure causal relationships between Instagram and real-world issues,” she added.

Raychoudhury insisted that internal documents revealed in the reports were “created for and used by people who understood the limitations of the research” and did not fully reflect the supporting data.


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Leaked internal slides formed a core aspect of the WSJ reports and painted a damning picture of Instagram’s impact on teenage users. One slide deck, for example, claimed that Instagram made “body images worse for 1 in 3 teenage girls”.

Body image issues were just one of a number of potential harms investigated by Facebook, Raychoudhury noted, which raises questions about the decision to focus heavily on that specific issue.

“Body image was the only area where teen girls who reported struggling with the issue said Instagram made it worse, as compared to the other 11 areas,” she said.

“In fact, in 11 of 12 areas on the slide referenced by the Journal – including serious areas like loneliness, anxiety, sadness and eating issues – more teenage girls who said they struggled with that issue also said that Instagram made those difficult times better, rather than worse,” Raychoudhury added.

This latest controversy once again shines the spotlight on Facebook’s influence over its billion-plus users, and has caught the attention of US lawmakers.

Facebook’s Global Head of Safety, Antigone Davis, is set to appear before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee this week to answer questions on the WSJ reports.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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