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Facebook knows Instagram is toxic to teenage girls, mental health, body image, company documents reveal

NEW YORK – Instagram says it’s looking for new ways to discourage users from focusing on their physical appearance after The Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook researchers have repeatedly discovered that the sharing platform of photos is toxic to teenage girls.

The newspaper reported on Tuesday that researchers from Facebook, which bought Instagram in 2012, have conducted studies over the past three years on how the app affects its millions of young users. Research shows that the platform can harm mental health and body image, especially among teenage girls. Facebook executives have often downplayed mental health issues in public.

“We make body image problems worse for one in three teenage girls,” said an internal presentation slide obtained by The Journal, summarizing research on teenage girls who experience these problems. Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of UK users and 6% of US users attributed their desire to kill themselves to Instagram, according to a presentation, according to The Journal.

Karina Newton, public policy manager at Instagram, wrote in a statement released Tuesday that referred to the newspaper article that while Instagram can be a place where people have “negative experiences,” the app is also giving voice. to marginalized people and helps friends and family stay connected.

Newton said internal Facebook research demonstrates the company’s commitment to “understanding the complex and difficult issues young people can face, and informs all of the work we do to help those who encounter these issues.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook researchers concluded that some adolescent mental health issues were specific to Instagram, not social media in general, especially when it comes to “social comparison.” This is when users focus on how their wealth, appearance or success compares to other people on the platform.

The research has been reviewed by top Facebook executives, according to The Journal, and was cited in a 2020 presentation given to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Newton said in his blog post on Tuesday that Instagram “is increasingly focusing on tackling negative social comparisons and negative body image.” One idea is to encourage users to look at different topics when they repeatedly view such content.

“We are cautiously optimistic that these nudges will help people move towards content that inspires and uplifts them, and to a greater extent, will change the part of Instagram’s culture that focuses on l ‘appearance of people, ”she said.

That may not be enough to appease the critics. Facebook reaffirmed in July that it was moving forward with its plan to create an Instagram account for children under 13 despite significant opposition from parents and lawmakers in Washington.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said Tuesday that the Journal report shows that Facebook has known for years “the detrimental effect of Instagram on young people” and that the warnings of its own employees have been “dismissed. side in favor of growth “.

“I am dismayed and alarmed that Facebook is targeting teens with dangerous products while hiding the science of its toxic impact,” he said on Twitter. “Through hearings and legislation, my trade subcommittee will act to protect children and support parents.”

If you are having suicidal thoughts, or if you are worried about a friend or loved one, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 [TALK], or send TALK to 741-741 for confidential, free 24/7 emotional support.

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