Instagram exacerbates body image issues, damages wellbeing and disproportionately impacts teenage girls, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.
Leaked Facebook documents seen by WSJ reporters show that the social media giant’s own research into the site highlighted significant harmful effects on younger users.
In particular, research found that the site contributes to increased body image issues for teenage girls, with 40% of users who have felt “unattractive” stating the thoughts first arose after using Instagram.
A significant portion of teens using the platform also said they feel “not good enough” due to their use of the app, Facebook research found.
Slides from an internal presentation paint a damning picture for Instagram, which has been exploring plans to create a dedicated children’s platform.
“We make body image issues worse for one-in-three teen girls,” one slide read.
“Thirty-two per cent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” according to slides from a later presentation.
Another read: “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”
Notably, key issues highlighted in the research such as “social comparison” were specific to Instagram and not experienced by users of alternative platforms.
In part, this was due to users selectively sharing images of good moments or in idyllic settings. Research found this selective sharing impacted users significantly, contributing to depression, eating disorders and low self-esteem.
“Aspects of Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm,” an internal report concluded.
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The research, which Facebook conducted between 2019 and 2020, once again raises questions over the impact social media has upon the mental health of teenagers and young people.
Concerns have also been raised over why Facebook chose to sit on this research while actively pursuing the development of a dedicated children’s platform.
A number of executives at the firm, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have repeatedly downplayed the negative impact of social media despite warnings in recent years.
In 2017, a study from the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) highlighted the psychological and emotional impact of social media on users.
The RSPH study ranked Instagram lowest out of five major platforms for mental health and wellbeing. The study noted that body image issues were being exacerbated by extensive use of the app.
Frequent users also stated they experienced increased loneliness, depression, anxiety, poor sleeping habits and cyberbullying.
In a statement responding to the WSJ report, Instagram’s Head of Public Policy, Katrina Newton said the story “focuses on a limited set of findings and casts them in a negative light,” adding that the platform stands by the research.
“It demonstrates our commitment to understanding complex and difficulty issues young people may struggle with, and informs all the work we do to help those experiencing these issues,” Newton wrote.
“Issues like negative social comparison and anxiety exist in the world, so they’re going to exist on social media too,” she added. “That doesn’t change the fact that we take these findings seriously.”