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Explained: What Instagram’s internal research has said about its impact on teenagers’ mental health

A WSJ report mentions that as per a slide from a presentation made in March 2020, which was posted to Facebook’s (which owns Instagram) internal message boards, “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.”

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: September 16, 2021 7:19:17 pm
Teenagers also tend to blame their usage of Instagram for increased rates of anxiety and depression, the WSJ report mentions. (File)

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Instagram’s internal research has found that the app affects teens in the US and UK negatively.

Some things that the internal research has found so far

The WSJ report mentions that as per a slide from a presentation made in March 2020, which was posted to Facebook’s (which owns Instagram) internal message boards, “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.”

Teenagers also tend to blame their usage of Instagram for increased rates of anxiety and depression, the WSJ report mentions.

Significantly, one presentation showed that 13 percent of British users and six percent of users in the US connected their desire to kill themselves to their usage of Instagram.

How people use social media in the US and UK

According to the results of a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, which were published in April, in the US, the majority of 18-29 year olds said they use Instagram (71 percent) or Snapchat (65 percent). Half of the respondents in this age group said that they use Tik Tok.

Within this bracket, those in the 18-24 year old age group are especially likely to report using Instagram (76 percent), Snapchat (75 percent) and Tik Tok (55 percent). Significantly, half of Hispanic (52 percent) and Black Americans (49 percent) said they use Instagram, compared with a smaller share of White Americans (35 percent).

Overall in the US, seven in ten Americans use social media to connect with each other, engage with news content, share information or entertain themselves, Pew notes.

In the UK, the highest percentage of Instagram users are in the 25-34 year age group at 30.9 percent, according to Statista. This is followed by 18-24 year olds, 22.9 percent of which use the app. As of July 2021, there were over 28 million users of Instagram in the UK.

What has Instagram’s response been?

In response to WSJ’s report, Instagram said in a statement, “While the story focuses on a limited set of findings and casts them in a negative light, we stand by this research. It demonstrates our commitment to understanding complex and difficult issues young people may struggle with, and informs all the work we do to help those experiencing these issues.”

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The statement added that the research about social media’s effects on mental health is “mixed”.

“The research on the effects of social media on people’s well-being is mixed, and our own research mirrors external research. Social media isn’t inherently good or bad for people. Many find it helpful one day, and problematic the next. What seems to matter most is how people use social media, and their state of mind when they use it,” the statement added.

Instagram also said that the platform is working around bullying, eating disorders and self-injury to make the platform a safer place.

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