After The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook researchers have repeatedly found that the photo-sharing platform is toxic for teen girls, Instagram says it’s looking into new ways to discourage users from focusing on their physical appearance.
According to the newspaper, researchers at Facebook (FB), which bought Instagram in 2012, have been studying how the app affects its millions of young users for the past three years. According to the study, the platform can harm teen girls’ mental health and body image. In public, Facebook executives have frequently downplayed mental health concerns.
“We exacerbate body image issues for one in three teen girls,” according to an internal presentation slide obtained by The Journal, which summarized research on teen girls who have the problems. According to The Journal, 13 percent of British users and 6 percent of American users who reported suicidal thoughts blamed Instagram for their desire to die.
While Instagram can be a place where people have “negative experiences,” Karina Newton, Instagram’s head of public policy, wrote in a statement posted on Tuesday that referenced the newspaper article that the app also gives a voice to marginalized people and helps friends and family stay connected.
Facebook’s internal research, according to Newton, demonstrates the company’s commitment to “understanding complex and difficult issues that young people may face, and informs all of the work we do to help those experiencing these issues.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook researchers concluded that some teen mental health issues were unique to Instagram rather than social media in general, particularly when it came to “social comparison.” This is when users compare their wealth, appearance, or success to that of other users on the platform.
According to The Journal, the research was reviewed by top Facebook executives and was cited in a 2020 presentation given to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Newton said in her blog post on Tuesday that Instagram is “increasingly focused on addressing negative social comparison and negative body image.” When users repeatedly view the same type of content, one idea is to prompt them to look at different topics.
“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 said.
It’s possible that this won’t be enough to satisfy critics. Despite significant opposition from parents and lawmakers in Washington, Facebook reaffirmed in July that it was moving forward with plans to build an Instagram for kids under the age of 13.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a Democrat, said Tuesday that The Journal’s report shows that Facebook has known for years about Instagram’s “damaging effect on young people,” and that its own employees’ warnings were “pushed aside in favor of growth.”
“I’m appalled and alarmed by Facebook’s targeting of teens with dangerous products while hiding the science of its toxic impact,” he said on Twitter. “Through hearings and legislation my Commerce subcommittee will act to protect children and support parents.”