A recently released Facebook internal research report shows that Instagram negatively impacts the mental health of teen users.
Top officials from the company were aware of the photo and video sharing app’s negative impacts, particularly on teenage girls.
Some of the problems are specific to Instagram and not to social media platforms in general. The staff at the company have been aware of the problem since at least 2019, and their research has repeatedly found the harmful effects their products have on the younger generation.
The Research Findings
According to internal research conducted in 2019, Instagram has caused body image issues for one in three teen girls. Thirty-two per cent of teen girls have admitted that Instagram worsened their existing body insecurities.
In a study of teens from the UK and US, Facebook found that over 40% of Instagram users reported feeling ‘unattractive’ due to reasons caused by the platform.
Teens have also blamed the app for an increase in anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts.
Researchers also found that Instagram negatively impacts teenage boys. 14% of boys in the United States admitted to feeling negative about themselves due to using Instagram.
While the research findings themselves are not as surprising, the fact that the company was fully aware of its impact surprised many worldwide.
The head of Instagram’s Public Policy responded to the Wall Street Journal report saying the company stands with the research findings. She explained that the story focuses on specific results that portray the company in a negative light.
The company demonstrates its commitment to understanding complex and challenging issues young people struggle with by standing by the research findings. The findings inform the company how to help the people experiencing these issues, enabling the company to form a work plan.
The Future Plan
Instagram’s user base is younger than Facebook’s leading social network, and more than 40% of Instagram users are under 22. With the criticism received from young users regarding the ill effects of Instagram, Facebook plans to develop and release a version of the app suitable for children.
Vishal Shah, the Vice President of Instagram, talked to Buzzfeed News about their plan. They will build a Community Product Group that will focus on: (a) accelerating their integrity and privacy to ensure the teens receive the safest possible experience (b) building a version of the photo-sharing app that kids under 13 years of age will be allowed to use safely.
The announcement comes two days after Instagram stated the need for doing more to protect its young audience. The current policy of Instagram forbids children under the age of 13 from using the service.
While various laws limit how companies can build products with children as the target audience, Instagram sees this section as a viable growth segment primarily because Instagram’s significant popularity lies in the younger audience.
The version of the app meant for children would place transparency and parental control measures in place to protect the children.
Many experts around the world have criticized Facebook’s plans. Priya Kumar, a candidate for a doctorate at the University of Maryland, talked about the potential harm caused by Facebook normalizing the idea of monetizing social connections among young people.
Despite Instagram claiming to make the platform safe for children, there is a shadow of doubt on the company. In the light of previous experiences with the organization and its light attitude towards the bullying people faced on their platform, people’s scepticism feels valid.
People around the world are doubtful of the company’s plans to make an app for children.
The consensus is that Instagram’s focus should primarily be on making the platform safe for the teens who are already using it rather than make another version for the children to use.