Facebook Aware of Instagram’s Harmful Effect on Teenage Girls, Leak Reveals

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A Guardian Newspaper investigation in September 2021, exposes how Facebook reportedly kept its own research secret that suggests its Instagram app worsens body image issues

According to a leak from Facebook, for two years it has kept internal research secret suggesting its Instagram app makes body image issues worse for teenage girls.

Since at least 2019, staff at the company have been studying the impact of their product on its younger users’ states of mind. Their research has repeatedly found it is harmful for a large proportion, and particularly teenage girls. “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said a slide from in a 2019 internal presentation.

In March, CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed that social media was more likely to have positive mental health effects. This despite an internal report suggesting pressure created by Instagram to share only the best moments could pitch teenagers into depression, low self-esteem and eating disorders.

Among the most concerning findings was that among users who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% in the UK and 6% in the US traced them back to Instagram. Facebook’s internal conclusions echo numerous studies that implicate social media in mental health problems among young people.

A spokesperson for 5Rights Foundation, which campaigns to make online services more suitable for children and the young said: “Facebook’s own research is a devastating indictment of the carelessness with which it, and the tech sector more broadly, treats children… it is time to optimise for the safety, rights and wellbeing of kids first – and then, only then – profit.”

Facebook sent the Guardian a blog post by Instagram’s head of public policy, Karina Newton in which she points out that “Issues like negative social comparison and anxiety exist in the world, so they’re going to exist on social media too… we set up a specific effort to respond to this research and change Instagram for the better.”

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