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In a series of investigations, the Journal reported that internal Facebook research showed that one third of teen girls said Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies.
“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” one slide from 2019 reportedly stated, while another read: “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups”.
However, Pratiti Raychoudhury, Facebook’s Head of Research, has pushed back on the report. “In 11 of 12 areas on the slide referenced by the Journal — including serious areas like loneliness, anxiety, sadness and eating issues — more teenage girls who said they struggled with that issue also said that Instagram made those difficult times better rather than worse”, she wrote.
“Body image was the only area where teen girls who reported struggling with the issue said Instagram made it worse as compared to the other 11 areas. But here also, the majority of teenage girls who experienced body image issues still reported Instagram either made it better or had no impact.”
Raychoudhury seemingly criticised Facebook’s own research, saying that some of the findings “relied on input from only 40 teens” – a paltry number compared to the social media site’s one billion users.
The Journal also reported that 13 per cent of British users and six per cent of American users traced suicidal thoughts to Instagram. Facebook claims, in contrast, that looking at the full data set reveals only one per cent “of the entire group of teens who took the survey said they had suicidal thoughts that they felt started on Instagram” but adds that “even one person who feels this started on Instagram is one too many”.
Neither the Wall Street Journal nor Facebook has released the data that this research is based on, making it difficult for external academics and journalists to examine the claims.
Over the past years, however, there have been numerous reports that Facebook stopped research that would make its site more pleasant to use and creating an alleged two-tier system for users that allowed ‘VIPs’ to abuse the system.
In addition to its main app, Instagram is currently building a version of its app for children under the age of 13, although 44 states in the US have asked the company to drop the plans.