Is Instagram Toxic for Young Girls’ Mental Health?
Years of internal Facebook research, obtained by the Wall Street Journal, appears to show that Instagram may be toxic to significant portions of its young user base, predominantly young girls. However Facebook, in a statement, claim that the data was taken out of context and refute that Instagram is having a negative effect.
What the research found on mental health
One study in the report found that Instagram makes “body image issues worse for one in three teenage girls” with the research also revealing that “teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression” a comment which was “unprompted and consistent across all groups”. This highlights the significant damage Instagram is having on mental health, and the level of awareness teens have to its toxicity. Among teenagers who have reported suicidal thoughts 6% in the US and 13% from the UK traced them back to Instagram directly. Researchers argued in their reports that this higher blame being placed on Instagram over Facebook and other social platforms was due to its higher focus on body and lifestyle.
In reaction to the story published by the WSJ Facebook posted a blog on Instagram suggesting that the information had been taken out of context. The Head of Public Policy at Instagram, Karina Newton wrote that: the article “focuses on a limited set of findings and casts them in a negative light,” and reinforced that the research carried out “demonstrates our commitment to understanding complex and difficult issues young people may struggle with.” She also used other data that we have referenced before to highlight the nuanced impact that social media can have in particular research by Pew Internet which suggests that 81% of teens find social media to help them stay more connected to their friends. However, this research was carried out across social platforms and cannot effectively rebut attacks on Instagram directly.
Why is this so shocking?
The fact that Instagram and other social platforms may be toxic to the mental health of teenagers, in particular teen girls, is of no surprise. We have written about it many times before in fact, including in our founder’s new book: ‘My Brain Has Too Many Tabs Open‘ which comes out on the 21st of September. What is a shock, is that Facebook appear to have been aware of the extent of damage caused to young teens and has done little to change the culture of the app. Changes could, for example, have shifted the focus away from the appearance of bodies and shape and size, which seem to be the main causes of body image issues in young girls. In their expose the WSJ further highlight the economic bonus these users (those under 22) bring to Instagram, with 40% of the app users being under 22 – bringing in roughly $100 billion in annual revenue.
What happens now?
As this story progresses, we will no doubt hear more about the leaked research carried out by Facebook on Instagram and its other subsidiary brands, but we fear the story will stay the same: social media giants are doing little to mitigate the negative impact of their products, and are potentially complicit in the mental health damage caused to their users by neglecting to take this issue seriously.