Instagram Makes Problems Worse for Young Women and Girls with Low Self-Esteem
Instagram is making young, female users who are insecure about their bodies feel even worse about it. This is apparent from a series of internal investigations by Facebook, owner of Instagram.
The negative effect is found in almost a third of young female users of the app who already struggle with problematic insecurity about their bodies. The researchers put it this way at a presentation in 2019: “For one out of every three teenage girls with negative self-esteem, we are making the problems worse.”
The text comes from a presentation following a large internal study into the effect of Instagram on young users, which The Wall Street Journal writes about. In addition, the newspaper got its hands on thousands of pages of internal Facebook communications.
Until this spring, researchers from Facebook and Instagram conducted various studies for eighteen months into what their products do to the mental health of young users. To do this, they spoke to teenagers in focus groups, sent out surveys and researched diaries.
Tens of thousands of users were asked about their use of Instagram, and that data was compared with what Facebook itself knows about the behaviour within the app of these young people. More than 40 percent of Instagram users are under the age of 22.
The bottom line: Young users blame Instagram for increasing feelings of uneasiness, anxiety and depression. Users told the researchers that the app made them feel unattractive or “not good enough.” Of the teens who said they had suicidal thoughts, 13 percent of British and 6 percent of American users cited Instagram as one of the reasons.
Publicly, Facebook says otherwise. The effect of Instagram is “not that big” on the well-being of teenagers, for example, app boss Adam Mosseri told reporters in May. On the other hand, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said in a congressional hearing in March that he had seen studies showing that apps that connect people can positively affect their mental health.
When two senators asked Facebook in August of this year for more information about the effect of Instagram use on young users, they received a six-page letter back. For example, it said that experts are not yet in agreement on how much screen time is “too much”.
The internal investigation that The Wall Street Journal writes about was not one of them. However, a Facebook spokesperson told the newspaper that the company looks forward to working with Congress and independent experts to investigate further.
The Wall Street Journal published earlier this week about another part of the leaked Facebook documents. It found that millions of famous and influential users enjoy much more protection over what they say and do on Facebook and Instagram than “regular” users.