Fb docs reveal how poisonous Instagram is to youngsters: WSJ

Facebook has repeatedly found that its Instagram app is harmful to a number of teenagers, according to a Wall Street Journal report published Tuesday.

The journal cited Facebook studies over the past three years that looked at how Instagram is affecting its young user base, with teenage girls in particular being harmed. An internal Facebook presentation said that among teenagers who have reported suicidal ideation, 13% of UK and 6% of American users attribute the problem to Instagram.

“32 percent of teenage girls said they felt worse on Instagram when they felt bad,” the researchers wrote. Facebook also reportedly found that 14% of boys in the US said they felt worse about Instagram.

While Facebook concluded that Instagram does not negatively harm a large percentage of teenagers, the features that the social media company has identified as the most harmful are part of its key makeup, according to the Journal.

According to the report, researchers warned that Instagram’s Explore page, which serves curated posts to users from a variety of accounts, can push users towards content that can be harmful. The app also has a posting culture of only the best pictures and moments, and it works like an addicting product.

“Aspects of Instagram tighten each other to create a perfect storm,” the study said, according to the journal.

Top executives have reviewed the research, according to the Journal, and it was quoted in a presentation to CEO Mark Zuckerberg last year. However, Facebook has reportedly struggled to resolve the issue while users stay busy and come back. Facebook is also building a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13.

Young users are a key to Instagram’s success. According to the materials viewed by the Journal, more than 40% of Instagram users are 22 years old and younger.

In a blog post, Instagram public policy director Karina Newton responded to the coverage, saying the company was researching ways to discourage users from lingering on certain types of Instagram posts.

“We’re looking for ways to get them to look at different topics when they deal with this type of content repeatedly,” Newton said. “We’re cautiously optimistic that these nudges will help alert people to content that inspires and uplift them and, to a greater extent, will transform the part of Instagram culture that focuses on people’s looks.”

The Journal report exacerbated concerns of at least one lawmaker about Facebook’s exploration of a children’s version of Instagram. MP Lori Trahan, D-Mass., Has made children’s mental health a key priority related to the use of social media and previously reprimanded Facebook for considering such a product.

According to the journal’s report, Trahan urged Facebook to “immediately abandon the plans for Instagram for children” and instead focus on protecting existing young users.

“Facebook’s internal documents show that the company’s failure to protect children on Instagram – especially young girls – is a total neglect, and it has been happening for years,” Trahan said in a statement.

“Facebook has no business in developing additional social media platforms that are specifically designed for our children when they cannot be trusted to keep their current house in order.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., The top Republican woman on the House of Representatives Energy and Trade Committee, has made child mental health online a cornerstone of her platform. In a statement on Tuesday, she said Facebook refused to comply with a request made by Republicans on the committee in March asking for internal research into the effects of its products on children’s mental health.

A Facebook spokesperson said that due to the proprietary nature of the research and concerns about the confidentiality of study participants, it can be difficult to share internal data outside of the company. Nevertheless, according to the spokesman, Facebook is trying to make its internal studies more transparent.

“That also makes us wonder what else they are hiding,” said McMorris Rodgers. “We will continue to demand transparency from Facebook and other big tech companies, especially about the harm their products are doing to our children.”

Republicans have been circulating draft bill for discussion, including one that requires platforms like Facebook to submit regular reports to the Federal Trade Commission on their businesses’ impact on child mental health.

Facebook “knows Instagram is toxic to teenagers, but they don’t care – they’re too busy shutting out conservatives and stifling free speech,” Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Said on Twitter.

Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass., Tweeted the report’s findings “appalling” and said he would “ask for answers from Mark Zuckerberg.”

FTC Democratic Commissioner Rohit Chopra later tweeted, “Given the financial incentives embedded in its surveillance-based business model, this is yet another sign that the company cannot be trusted with our data.”

Read the full Wall Street Journal report.

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SEE: More than 40 state AGs against “Instagram Kids”

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