In response to the Wall Street Journal’s misleading reporting on Instagram’s internal study of adolescents’ mental health, we delivered two complete research slides to Congress earlier today. Since this sort of study is meant to inform internal dialogues and the papers were made for and utilised by people who knew the constraints of the research, we included comments to each slide that offer further context. We are now making these two annotated research presentations available to the general audience.
Instagram’s study contradicts The Wall Street Journal’s claim that the app had a negative effect on young women’s mental health by showing that users who previously reported struggling with a variety of mental health concerns reported improvements after using Instagram.
Like other studies on similar topics, this one revealed that youths’ experiences with social media are mixed.
We conduct in-house studies to learn how we can better serve teenagers, and the results of these studies have led to updates to existing products and the creation of brand-new ones.
In light of Thursday’s scheduled appearance by Facebook’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis before a Senate Commerce Subcommittee, we’d want to clarify several points regarding the research recently reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Clarifying the scope of this investigation is just as important as providing background for individual results. This study, which drew on the opinions of only 40 young people, was conducted in order to stimulate internal discussions regarding the problems that young people have with Instagram. It did not attempt to high quantify links between using Instagram and any problems in the real world. Shorthand language was utilised, especially in the headlines, and the cautions were not explained on every slide since these materials were written for and read by persons who recognised the limits of the research.
The study of these massive societal problems and the factors that influence them is intricate and subtle. The Journal story made it seem like we were trying to keep our research a secret and that the findings are shocking, but this is not the case. For over a decade, both internal and external studies have discussed the pros and cons of social media and how they affect users’ sense of well-being. Harvard students, for instance, indicated mixed feelings about the effects of social media on their friendships and creativity, although they were “predominantly” favourable. In addition, a Pew Internet poll found that while the vast majority of youth (81%) agree that social media helps them connect, a sizable minority (43%) agree that they feel compelled to publish things that make them “look good.”
To reduce the negative and maximise the positive on our platforms, we have been conducting internal research. The research is funded so that we may proactively identify areas for enhancement; the worst-case scenarios are emphasised in internal slides. Because of this, the application we’ve made of this study is the most significant part of it. Our extensive history of leveraging internal and external research in tandem with close engagement with our Safety Advisory Board, Youth Advisors, and other professionals and organisations has allowed us to continuously improve our applications and the materials available to our users. Here’s an Instagram example:
We’ve included additional tools to help people who are dealing with difficulties linked to their body image, including a specific way to report anything that promotes or encourages the use of eating disorders.
We revised our policy to prevent valuable users from being exposed to suicide and self-injury-related information in public areas like Explore, and we removed all graphic content connected to suicide.
If consumers seem to be spending a lot of time on a given kind of information, we may use it as an opportunity to pounce. It is our sincere wish that these prods would lead individuals in the direction of material that serves to encourage and raise them.
Below, we compare the claims made by The Wall Street Journal with the findings of the study:
According to WSJ, Instagram has been shown to have negative effects on its young users, especially adolescent girls. One presentation from 2019 summarising research on adolescent females with body image concerns stated, “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.”
Results from the data: The slide in question, which was not published by The Wall Street Journal as part of their research but which we are making public here, demonstrates that Instagram is useful for many teenagers who are dealing with serious problems. Teenage females who reported experiencing difficulties like those listed on 11 of the 12 slides cited by the Journal were more likely to report that Instagram improved their situation rather than making it worse.¹ Body image was the one notable exception. One-third of the adolescent females who told us they were having body image concerns claimed that using Instagram made them feel worse, however this is not stated directly in the headline of the internal slide. The Journal does not make this distinction clear, but it is a significant one. In addition, among the same group of females who reported having body image problems, 22% said that using Instagram improved their feelings about their body image problems, whereas 45.5% reported that it had no effect.