Facebook has been conducting studies of its Instagram platform for the past three years and have found teenage girls' mental health can be harmed, including "increases in the rate of anxiety and depression."
That in itself has been widely presumed as a downside to social media, particularly as it relates to maturing young girls and boys, but The Wall Street Journal reported those findings are not being readily shared publicly.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg painted a positive picture of Instagram's benefits to mental health in Congress this March, and Instagram chief Adam Mosseri suggested to reporters in May that Instagram's mental-health impacts on teens is likely "quite small."
The Journal reported the public comments are effectively obscuring the tech giants' own internal data from in-depth research showing Instagram is dangerous for teen mental health, including findings from its own in-depth research
"Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse," a March 2020 study, obtained by the Journal, found. "Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves."
A study in 2019 found similar results.
"We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls," the study declared, the Journal reported.
Studies have also found 13% of British users and 6% of Americans on the platform reported suicidal thoughts and cited Instagram as bringing about the thoughts.
"This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups," the study found, according to the Journal.
Those findings do not jive with their chief's public comments.
"The research that we've seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits," Zuckerberg told a March congressional hearing.
When asked about his "quite small" impact remarks, Instagram's Mosseri told the Journal as it was filing this report, "in no way do I mean to diminish these issues."
"Some of the issues mentioned in this story aren't necessarily widespread, but their impact on people may be huge," Mosseri said, adding, "I've been pushing very hard for us to embrace our responsibilities more broadly."
The internal research, while not publicly shared, is a positive for the platform in the public square, he told the Journal.
"For me, this isn't dirty laundry," he said. "I'm actually very proud of this research."
Mosseri did admit to being aware of harm to some young users, but told the Journal they are not easily addressed and "there's a lot of good that comes with what we do."
"We don't send research out to regulators on a regular basis for a number of reasons," he told the Journal.
According to Instagram, there are about 22 million teens on the platform daily, and more than 40% of the total users are 22 years old and younger.
Just 5 million teens are on Facebook, and teens spend 50% more time on Instagram than Facebook, according to the report.
"Instagram is well positioned to resonate and win with young people," a researcher noted in internal studies obtained by the Journal.
But Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., fears Facebook might be hiding the negative impacts of social media.
"Facebook's answers were so evasive — failing to even respond to all our questions — that they really raise questions about what Facebook might be hiding," Blumenthal wrote in an email to the Journal. "Facebook seems to be taking a page from the textbook of Big Tobacco — targeting teens with potentially dangerous products while masking the science in public."
"Their documents showing they know their product — and it is a product just like cigarettes are a product — that their product is killing teenage girls," MSNBC's Joe Scarborough said in a rant on "Morning Joe," as Mediaite reported. "Their product is destroying the lives of teenage girls! Their product is causing anxiety to rise in teenage girls! Their product is causing depression to rise in teenage girls! And on Capitol Hill, you do nothing! You do nothing in the House. You do nothing in the Senate.
"You mumble around on campaign trails. You try blame the other side. No, this is you! This is you. You have a voting card. You have a voice, you represent this country in congress. Stop telling us what you can’t do, and start holding this malignant force in America in check."
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