Instagram has a damaging effect on teenagers, according to its own research

(Photo: Good Therapy)

Instagram has come under fire for trying to hide data from its own research, indicating that the social media platform has an increasingly negative impact on teenage girls.

According to a report published by the Wall Street Journal [WSJ] in September, Instagram’s ‘secret’ study shows that teenagers experience increased levels of anxiety and depression due to the platform.

Instagram has said that its research is proof of its “commitment to understanding complex and difficult times” as reported by the BBC. However, the platform’s lack of action, and seemingly intentional negligence of its findings, have led members of the public to believe the company cares more about profit than the well-being of its users.

The findings

Below are excerpts of some of the WSJ’s findings. The following information has not been disputed by Facebook:

  • A 2019 presentation slide said: “We make body-image issues worse for one in three teenage girls”
  • Another slide said 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
  • Instagram conducted multiple focus groups, online surveys and diary studies over a number of years
  • In 2021, it conducted large-scale research of tens of thousands of people that paired user responses with its own data about time spent on Instagram and what was viewed

Instagram has since responded to the report, claiming that WSJ was merely focusing on a “limited set of findings” and therefore, making the company look bad. There are sources, however, that strongly indicate that the issue is much deeper than that. These sources also do not indicate that WSJ is simply out to get the Facebook-owned company or tarnish their reputation but rather that the findings are substantial.

Social psychologist at New York’s University, Jonathan Haidt, had met with Mark Zuckerburg to discuss the social network’s effect on mental health. He said as much on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

According to Haidt, Zuckerburg seemed interested in the topic at hand, but was also dismissive, labelling the research as “ambiguous” and in the end, harmless.

Haidt pointed out that this meeting was before discovering that Facebook itself had internal research that explicitly said that Instagram is harming the mental health of teenagers. Disturbingly, this data is not a one-off finding. There are focus groups, diary studies, and online surveys all pointing to this issue.

Haidt also stated that he believes there is “no fix” for this problem.

“The platform encourages children to post photos of themselves, to be raided by others including strangers around the world. If this is the business model, there is no way to fix it,” he said.