Instagram Internal Memo: 'We Make Body Image Issues Worse For 1 In 3 Girls'

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Scary Mommy, golero/Getty and Instagram

Internal documents released by the Wall Street Journal confirms that Facebook (who owns Instagram) knows the app is harmful to teen girls’ mental health

The negative effects of social media on teens’ self-esteem, mental health, and body image kind of seem like a no-brainer, and trying to find ways to navigate that as a parent is undoubtedly challenging. Even more infuriating is that higher-ups at Facebook Inc., who also owns Instagram, are well aware that teens — particularly teen girls — are facing detrimental effects to their mental health as a direct result of using the app, and they’re seemingly doing very little about it.

In a new report published by the Wall Street Journal, researchers at the company have been studying the harmful effects of Instagram on its youngest users for several years. As for what they’re doing to combat the issue or to support these users remains undetermined.

“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.”

Teens also admitted to feeling “addicted” to Instagram and wanting to check it less often, but not being able to withhold that urge. Research reviewed by Facebook executives 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.

Facebook has been conducting studies for three years, with the company’s researchers finding that Instagram is harmful for a “sizable percentage of users,” perhaps most unsurprisingly including teen girls.

Some awful tidbits to come from this internal research: In 2019, they shared, “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” while “teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

One study by Facebook of teen users in both the US and the UK found that over 40 percent of teens who reported feeling unattractive say it started when using Instagram.

Another presentation revealed that among teen users who reported having suicidal thoughts, six percent were American users who linked Instagram use to their suicidal ideations, while 13 percent of British users said the same. Given the stats that about 22 million teens log onto Instagram in the U.S. each day, these numbers are alarmingly high — and certainly worrisome.

Facebook Inc. execs have consistently downplayed these issues. As recently as March, founder Mark Zuckerberg even claimed the opposite at a congressional hearing in which he spoke about the apps’ effects on kids’ mental health. “The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits,” he claimed at the time.

Even scarier is that the company had announced plans to launch a version of Instagram designed to be used by children under 13 (the current youngest age allowed, per Instagram policy), with lawmakers on both sides of the coin trying desperately to prevent it from seeing the light of day.

Click here to read the internal documents, research, and testimony from teen users in its entirety.

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