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Facebook admits Instagram has harmful mental health impact on teenagers: Report

Published: Updated:

Research carried out by Facebook into Instagram has reportedly raised serious concerns about the impact the social media platform can have on the mental health of teenagers, especially adolescent girls.

The photo-sharing app – which has one billion monthly active users – can be “harmful for a sizable percentage” of young users, according to studies carried out by Facebook researchers and conducted over the past three years.

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The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing internal company documents, that the research presented in 2019 reportedly found that Instagram makes body image issues worse for one in three teenage girls.

According to the survey, 40 per cent of girls under 18 years said they felt bad about their bodies and that the social network made this feeling worse.

Teens also said the platform increased rates of anxiety and depression, reported the WSJ.

On Tuesday, Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said it stands by its research to understand young people’s experiences on the app.

“The question on many people’s minds is if social media is good or bad for people,” wrote Karina Newton, head of public policy at Instagram, in a blog post. “The research on this is mixed; it can be both. At Instagram, we look at the benefits and the risks of what we do.”

Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Instagram logo in this picture illustration. (Reuters)
Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Instagram logo in this picture illustration. (Reuters)

Newton added that Instagram has done “extensive work around bullying, suicide and self-injury, and eating disorders” to make the app a safe place for everyone. The company is also focused on addressing negative social comparison and body image, said Newton.

For years, people have blamed apps like Instagram for having a negative impact on mental well-being.

In 2017, a survey of almost 1,500 teens and young adults found Instagram is the worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing. While the photo-based platform got points for self-expression and self-identity, it was also associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO - “fear of missing out.”

The #StatusOfMind survey, published by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health, included input from 1,479 young people (ages 14 to 24) from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“Seeing friends constantly on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life,” the #StatusOfMind report stated at the time. “These feelings can promote a ‘compare and despair’ attitude.”

Social media posts can also set unrealistic expectations and create feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, the authors wrote. This may explain why Instagram, where personal photos take center stage, received the worst scores for body image and anxiety. As one survey respondent wrote, “Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect’.”

Instagram has also been criticized byadvocacy groups and lawmakers for harboring harmful content and fostering anxiety and depression, particularly among younger audiences.

Earlier this year, reports revealed Instagram is planning to launch a platform for kids under 13.

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