Facebook is aware that Instagram, the social network it owns, is potentially harmful to the mental health of teenage girls, according to a report published on Tuesday (14) by the Wall Street Journal.
According to the American newspaper, a presentation that circulated among employees in March 2020 showed that comparisons on Instagram could change the way young women saw themselves. The documents would have been accessed by the newspaper.
In another presentation, in 2019, the social network was informed that the platform worsened the image issues of one in three girls. Teenagers would also blame Instagram for anxiety and depression issues.
It would also be in this presentation that among the young women who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of the British and 6% of the Americans linked the desire to kill themselves to the social network.
These surveys would have been done by employees of the company itself, many of them with experience in psychology, computer science and data analysis.
According to the newspaper, there were five presentations over 18 months that showed results of focus groups, online surveys and follow-ups aimed at the mental health of adolescents. One of the suggestions would have been the use of more “fun” filters (a resource that changes the image of selfies, common on the web) instead of those that retouch users’ faces.
The studies would also have concluded that Instagram, specifically, and not social media in general, is problematic in pushing users to social comparisons.
The documents, according to the newspaper, show that 40% of the users of the social network are 22 years old or less.
The information the Wall Street Journal claims it has obtained contradicts what the company has been publicly saying. “The research we’ve seen shows that using social media to connect with others can have positive mental health benefits,” company CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in March 2021.
He did not submit his company’s alleged survey in response to US Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn in August. In a letter, he said that internal research was kept confidential and that he would not be aware of a consensus among experts about when screen time becomes harmful.
In May, Adam Mosseri, the Facebook executive in charge of Instagram, told reporters that polls indicate the app’s effects on teenagers are small.
In a more recent interview, he asserted that he does not want to “diminish these issues” in any way, and that the problems highlighted by the newspaper’s report are not necessarily plentiful, although their impact on people can be enormous.
Mosseri also said that Facebook was slow to realize the problems of connecting so many people. “I’ve been pushing really hard for us to take on our responsibilities more broadly.”
About the surveys that seek to measure the effects on mental health, the executive said he is proud of them. While he says that some features on Instagram are harmful to younger people, he says that “there is also a lot of good that comes out of what we do.”