by Zach Rossi ’23
Facebook hid their knowledge of Instagram’s harmful effect on teenagers’ mental health, according to The Wall Street Journal. The story broke as a part of the Journal’s investigative series titled “The Facebook Files,” where they have published multiple pieces exposing the secrets of the social media giant. Although all of these stories are significant, the relevancy of Instagram makes puts this one among the most pressing to address.
The report notes how Facebook conducted an internal investigation into the matter of teenagers’ mental health issues relating to the use of Instagram. In 2020, at the conclusion of the investigation, they found that not only social media but Instagram in particular, causes an increase in anxiety, depression, eating disorders due to body image concerns, and suicidal thoughts among teenagers. The internal report was presented to CEO Mark Zuckerberg last March, yet, at the request of Senators to release their findings, the company gave evasive excuses as to why they would be keeping them quiet. With 40% of Instagram’s users being 22 years of age and younger, it is understandable why profits are prioritized.
That is the most egregious aspect of the entire story: not that Instagram is harmful to teenager’s mental health, but that Facebook was aware of the harm and actively tried to hide the truth in order to keep their bottom lines in tack.
This is not to say there was no action taken by Facebook. Instagram adopted new features such as the ability to hide the “like” count on pictures, since most teens have reported that the amount of likes they get is a major source of anxiety. But not only was this feature found to be ineffective when used, it was a voluntary measure to begin with. Including this feature on posts is not exactly a “norm” when using Instagram, so why would anybody use it? It seems more counterproductive to solving the problem when this social aspect is considered
Regardless, whatever “efforts” made by Facebook were intentionally minimal: to fix the problem entirely would mean altering their source of immense profit which is clearly not a risk they are willing to take.
If Facebook is not going to solve the problem, then it is up to the users of Instagram to rethink how beneficial being active on the platform really is. By having users utilize the app as it was initially designed and currently operating, they become part of the problem. The current state of the platform has been proven, by the owners of the platform themselves, to be extremely harmful to young people’s mental health and well-being. Therefore, it is only logical to think that the users themselves are encouraging the current structure of the app by their unofficial endorsement through their participation.
Everyone has bought into Instagram as a habitual part of their social lives, but it is time to address the elephant in the room: the general negativity the app can create. People were aware of the application’s harm, even before this concrete evidence by the Journal was published, yet everyone kept going back.
Although no solutions to the problem will be offered in this piece, hopefully a conversation will be started among Instagram users as to where the social media platform fits in their lives, and whether or not it is really worth it.