Facebook has published two slides detailing her research on how Instagram affects teenage mental health. The slides were largely cited by The Wall Street Journal earlier this month, in a story reporting that the company’s own researchers had found that “Instagram is harmful to a sizeable percentage” of teenagers, especially teenage girls. “
Instagram has tried to refute those claims, saying its investigation was mischaracterized. But the resulting backlash has already forced the company to “pause” his work on an Instagram Kids app. It also increased pressure on Facebook to publish the underlying research, which ultimately the company agreed do. Facebook’s head of security is scheduled to testify at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on child safety on Instagram on Thursday.
The slides offer a rare glimpse on how Facebook investigates thorny issues affecting its own services. Many include lengthy annotations with additional “context” on the most controversial aspects of the investigation. For example, a slide titled “The perfect picture, feeling attractive and having enough money is more likely to have started on Instagram,” states that the information on the slide “should not be used as estimates of the average experience among teenage users.”
Other annotations, such as one on a slide, titled “One in five teenagers say Instagram makes them feel worse about themselves, with UK girls the most negative,” attempt to downplay the findings. “This research was not intended to (and did not) evaluate causal claims between Instagram and health or wellness.” (That line is repeated on several other slides.)
The research also provides information on what type of content is positively perceived by teens on Instagram. One slide claims that meme accounts are among the content that “makes teens feel better.”
The publication of the research is unlikely to silence critics of Facebook, particularly those in Congress who were already deeply suspicious of the company’s attempts to lure children to its services. Some Democratic lawmakers have asked the company to completely quit its Instagram Kids job. For Facebook, younger users are not just one of the largest demographic groups, but one in which the company has been steadily losing out to rivals like Snapchat and Instagram.
Other research, also conducted by Facebook and published by The Wall Street Journal This week, she found that Facebook has been struggling to keep tweens and teens engaged. In a slide, which Facebook has not released, the company discussed whether toddler playdates could be used “as a growth lever for Messenger Kids.” Facebook later said that “it was an insensitive way of asking a serious question and does not reflect our approach to creating the app.”
Updated 9/29/21 11:32 pm ET: The Wall Street Journal has released internal documents, including those that Facebook did not include in its report on how Instagram affects teens’ mental health.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.