Over the last three years, researchers at Instagram, which is owned by Meta (formerly Facebook), have studied the impact the photo sharing app has on young women. Their results have consistently showed that a large percentage of teenage girl users experience psychological harm directly as a result of using the app.
Specifically, the researchers found that Instagram use worsens body image in one-third of teenage girl users, but that all users tie their anxiety and depression directly to Instagram. Worse, six percent of users in the United States blame Instagram for suicidal thoughts. That number is even higher in the United Kingdom.
Instagram lives or dies by its number of users under the age of 22 and boasts approximately 22 million of them. The platform rakes in more than $100 billion per year, revenue that Meta doesn’t want to see diminish. Not surprisingly, the company has regularly minimized its knowledge that Instagram negatively impacts the public.
However, a recent investigation by the Wall Street Journal found that Meta is “acutely aware” that its products and systems “routinely fail.” Internal researchers at Meta, the Journal reported, took a deep dive into teenage mental health, which has been notoriously imperiled in recent years. They concluded that many problems teens face link directly to Instagram rather than to social media as a whole.
According to the WSJ report, teens reported that they knew using Instagram was causing them to feel “unattractive” and that they spent too much time on the app. The young users also acknowledged not having the self-control to log off. The negative feelings and addictive behavior attributed to Instagram use were heightened during the pandemic, the research concluded.
That the very nature of the app—sharing best moments combined with a constant pressure to appear perfect—fuels its addictive nature, is common knowledge among Meta officials. The company’s evasiveness and secrecy about the information has been compared to tobacco companies withholding data about the lethal effects of their products decades ago.
Is Instagram the new Big Tobacco?
- Since the Wall Street Journal report, a coalition of eight states has begun investigating how Instagram affects teens. Does the government have a legal and ethical obligation to involve itself in this situation?
- Should Meta be held responsible for the impact of its products? Why or why not?
- What can Meta/Facebook do to mitigate the harm Instagram has on so many of its users?