Facebook’s plans to open Instagram for kids make its harms worse

According to one internal presentation, 32% of young girls said Instagram made them feel bad about themselves

Facebook’s plans to open Instagram for kids make its harms worse

Facebook has resurfaced in the news. This week, The Wall Street Journal released a dramatic multi-part report on the corporation, based on internal papers, that covered everything from the company’s hidden practise of whitelisting celebrities to its understanding that Instagram is harming teen girls’ mental health.

The recent spate of investigative reports demonstrates that what Facebook says in public does not always represent the company’s understanding of known difficulties behind the scenes. Even if Facebook has been oblivious to the myriad social ills it has seeded for years, the disclosures nonetheless shocked. Facebook’s long-standing public relations strategy has been to conceal its hazards, denying public understanding of its negative social consequences even while internal research details them.

That’s fine until someone gets their hands on the internal research. One of the most shocking facts from the WSJ study is that the firm is aware that Instagram creates substantial mental health risks for teenage girls. “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” according to an internal research presentation from 2019 – a surprising admission for a firm pushing forward with plans to grow to even younger and more vulnerable age groups.

Instagram’s Adam Mosseri rejected concerns about the app’s detrimental influence on kids as “very minimal” as late as May. Internally, though, the image presented a different narrative. According to the Wall Street Journal, the company performed a comprehensive study of teen mental health from 2019 to 2021, which included online surveys, diary studies, focus groups, and large-scale questionnaires.

According to one internal presentation, 32% of young girls said Instagram made them feel bad about themselves. 13 percent of British youths and 6% of American teens who had suicide thoughts explicitly linked their desire in killing themselves to Instagram, according to the study.

Another internal slide indicated that teens blame Instagram for rising rates of anxiety and sadness. This was an unprompted reaction that was shared by all groups. Following the publication of the WSJ piece, Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) announced an investigation into Facebook’s lack of transparency on internal research indicating that Instagram posed a serious and even lethal threat to teenagers. The probe will be launched by the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security.

Senators Blackburn and Blumenthal wrote that they are in contact with a Facebook whistleblower and will use every resource at their disposal to investigate what Facebook knew and when they knew it – including obtaining additional documents and pursuing witness testimony – and that The Wall Street Journal’s ground-breaking reporting may only be the beginning.

The latest research has disturbed a number of US legislators, including Blackburn and Blumenthal. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), and Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA) each sent a letter to Facebook requesting that the corporation abandon its plans to develop Instagram for children. They claim that children and teenagers are particularly vulnerable online, and their findings present a clear and tragic picture of Instagram as a dangerous app for young people’s safety.

In May, a coalition of 44 state attorneys general wrote to Instagram, urging the firm to drop plans to make Instagram available to children under the age of 13. The group of attorneys general noted, It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but rather creating one, as this platform appeals exclusively to youngsters who would not otherwise have an Instagram account. They warned that a children’s Instagram would be damaging for a variety of reasons.

In April, a group of Democratic legislators expressed “severe worries” about Instagram’s possible impact on adolescent users’ well-being. In the same month, a group of consumer advocacy groups asked that the firm reconsider its plans to establish an Instagram for youngsters. All of those worries appear to be well-founded, according to records obtained by the WSJ. Despite considerable internal study and extremely concerning results, Facebook has publicly downplayed its knowledge, even as regulators urged the corporation for more information.

Instagram’s Mosseri may have exacerbated the situation on Thursday when he made an unflattering comparison between social media platforms and automobiles. Mosseri told Peter Kafka on Recode’s media podcast that they know that automobile accidents kill more people than they would otherwise, but cars produce far more value in the world than they destroy. 

Despite social media’s well-documented addictive consequences, Mosseri downplayed any comparisons to drugs or cigarettes, instead of comparing social networks to the auto industry. Naturally, the company’s many detractors leaped on the automobile analogy, pointing to their widespread lethality and the fact that, unlike social media, the auto industry is strictly controlled.