T he features within Instagram that cause teenage girls to develop negative feelings about their body image may be baked into the very core of the platform, researchers and former employees have said in the wake of new revelations that the company did not disclose what it knew about its impact on young users. Facebook, which owns Instagram, has known for years that the platform is harmful to the mental health of many teenagers—particularly girls—but has kept internal research about the issue private, according to a Wall Street Journal report published Tuesday. Instagram said it was proud of the research, and that it is constantly improving how its app works to protect users from harm. According to researchers, platforms like Instagram can contribute to body image issues and depression because humans have an innate desire to compare themselves to others.
How Parents Can Help Girls Push Back
What the Research Says
Elevation Partners co-founder Roger McNamee argues the social media giant's value system conflicts with values of its users. According to an April presentation by Facebook executives, a team of Instagram researchers earlier this year created a test user that followed dieting- and thinness-obsessed Instagram accounts, as well as hashtags like skinny and thin. While images of emaciated bodies can appear revolting to most people, teens who already have body image issues share them as "thinspo" — images that "inspire" users to become impossibly thin, according to health experts. Andrea D. Vazzana, a child and adolescent psychologist at NYU Langone who works with eating disorder patients. She adds that eating disorder-related content and Instagram and other social media sites like TikTok have affected 99 percent of her patients — including adult men and women.
Christia Spears Brown does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. Plenty of peer-reviewed research papers show the same thing. Understanding the impact of social media on teens is important because almost all teens go online daily. Teens are more likely to log on to Instagram than any other social media site. It is a ubiquitous part of adolescent life. Yet studies consistently show that the more often teens use Instagram, the worse their overall well-being, self-esteem, life satisfaction, mood and body image. One study found that the more college students used Instagram on any given day, the worse their mood and life satisfaction was that day. There are two key features of Instagram that seem to make it particularly risky.
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