States Link Up In Probe On Instagram’s Harmful Effects on Children

by Madison Vanderberg
Elva Etienne/Getty

A group of state attorney generals have come together to investigate Meta Platforms, who owns Instagram, over its harmful effects on young people

Adults have been shouting about the harmful effects on Instagram and social media, in general, for years. From self-esteem issues to body dysmorphia, the platforms can be damaging to one’s mental health, but in teens and young people on the app, Instagram’s affect can be even worse and now, a bipartisan group of states have formally announced an investigation in how Instagram affects young people.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the attorney generals of at least eight states, including Massachusetts and Nebraska (the full list of states that have joined the probe isn’t public yet), are leading a coalition focused on how Instagram, owned by Meta Platforms (formerly known as Facebook) attracts and affects teens, and whether or not Meta violated consumer protection laws and put the public at risk.

The investigation will look into “the techniques utilized by Meta to increase the frequency and duration of engagement by young users and the resulting harms caused by such extended engagement.”

“When social media platforms treat our children as mere commodities to manipulate for longer screen time engagement and data extraction, it becomes imperative for state attorneys general to engage our investigative authority under our consumer protection laws,” said Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson.

“Facebook, now Meta, has failed to protect young people on its platforms and instead chose to ignore or, in some cases, double down on known manipulations that pose a real threat to physical and mental health — exploiting children in the interest of profit,” said Massachusetts AG Maura Healey.

Instagram’s harm to children isn’t news — Researchers at the company have been studying the harmful effects of its own product on its youngest users for several years.

Internal documents released by the Wall Street Journal in September 2021 confirms that Meta (who owns Instagram) knows the app is harmful to teen girls’ mental health and they’re seemingly doing very little about it.

“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” internal documents posted to Facebook’s internal message board in March 2020 revealed. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”

The research also noted that Instagram was worse than TikTok or Snapchat because by its very nature, Instagram encourages more “social comparison” while TikTok and Snapchat are more focused on entertaining stunts and fun filters. Instagram highlights bodies more often and therefore, makes teens feel worse about themselves.

In 2019, Meta point-blank shared in internal documents that “we make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” while adding that “teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

Clearly Meta isn’t holding their own company accountable for the harmful effects they know their app has on teens, so hopefully this new attorney general-led probe will result in some form of consequence.