Facebook says Instagram makes teen girls feel BETTER about themselves

Facebook bosses claim Instagram makes teenage girls feel BETTER about themselves after expose claiming bosses IGNORED research saying photo sharing app made third of teens feel worse about their body image

  • Facebook posted rebuttal on Sunday to claims it knew Instagram was harmful 
  • Wall Street Journal exposed internal documents from Facebook whistleblower 
  • Internal data showed company knew Instagram was harmful to young girls 
  • But Facebook pushed back, saying that data showed app made girls feel better 
  • Facebook’s safety chief, Antigone Davis, to appear on Capitol Hill on Thursday 
  • Facebook was also accused of incentivizing users to post angry, divisive content 

Facebook is pushing back against claims that it has long known that its subsidiary Instagram was harmful to teenage girls’ mental health – arguing instead that the app actually makes most of them feel better about themselves.

The Wall Street Journal, citing a review of internal company documents that included research reports, online employee discussions and drafts of presentations to senior management, said that although Facebook researchers have identified ‘the platform’s ill effects,’ the company failed to fix them.

The most damaging and widely reported claim centered on a statistic showing Instagram made a third of teenage girls surveyed feel worse about their body image.  

But Facebook took issue with the Journal’s investigation Sunday. 

The company published a blog post written by Pratiti Raychoudhury, Facebook’s vice president of research.

Raychoudhury’s entry was posted days before Facebook’s top executive in charge of safety, Antigone Davis, testifies on Thursday before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee.

‘It is simply not accurate that this research demonstrates Instagram is “toxic” for teen girls,’ Raychoudhury writes.

‘The research actually demonstrated that many teens we heard from feel that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling with the kinds of hard moments and issues teenagers have always faced.’

Facebook is pushing back against claims that it has long known that its subsidiary Instagram was harmful to teenage girls’ mental health – arguing instead that the app actually makes them feel better about themselves. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is pictured above in 2020

Raychoudhury writes that the Journal did not note in its story that while girls did struggle with body image after exposure to Instagram, they said they felt better in other areas, like loneliness, anxiety, sadness, and eating issues.

‘Body image was the only area where teen girls who reported struggling with the issue said Instagram made it worse as compared to the other 11 areas,’ Raychoudhury writes.

‘But here also, the majority of teenage girls who experienced body image issues still reported Instagram either made it better or had no impact.’

Raychoudhury claims that the Journal ‘implied that we were hiding this research and that the results are surprising, but that is simply not accurate.’

Facebook claims that the newspaper failed to ‘put specific findings in context’ and that the research cited ‘did not measure causal relationships between Instagram and real-world issues.’

It also cited the number of teens surveyed for some of its findings, claiming that just 40 youngsters provided answers to some questions, meaning it was impossible to report their concerns as a definitive criticism of the social media site.  

Raychoudhury cites other studies from Harvard and Pew which show that young people have an overall positive view of social media.

The company published a blog post on Sunday arguing that teenage girls who use Instagram actually end up feeling better about themselves. As evidence, it cited the above chart 

A Pew Internet survey found that 81 percent said social media helps them connect with one another, though 43 percent said they felt pressure to post things that make them ‘look good.’

Raychoudhury writes that Facebook has used the internal research cited by the Journal to ‘inform changes to our apps and provide resources for the people who use them.’

Among the changes that the company has introduced include ‘new resources to support those struggling with body image issues’ as well as removing ‘all graphic content related to suicide.’

Raychoudhury also touts a new feature which ‘allows people to protect themselves from bullying.’

Facebook accused the Journal of omitting data from its story, including one study which found that ‘among teenage girls who said they had felt sadness in the past month, 57 percent said Instagram made things better, and 34 percent said Instagram had no impact.’

Just 9 percent said the app made them feel worse, according to Facebook.

Facebook also took issue with the Journal’s claim that 13 percent of British users and 6 percent of Americans ‘traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram,’ citing an internal company presentation.

‘When we take a step back and look at the full data set, about 1 percent of the entire group of teens who took the survey said they had suicidal thoughts that they felt started on Instagram,’ according to Raychoudhury.

‘In addition, some of the same research cited by the Journal in the slide above shows that 38 percent of teenage girls who said they struggled with suicidal thoughts and self harm said Instagram made these issues better for them, and 49 percent said it has no impact.’ 

The Journal articles say that Facebook exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules, played down the negative effects on young users of its Instagram app, made changes to its algorithm that made the platform ‘angrier,’ and had a weak response to alarms raised by employees over how the platform is used in developing countries by human traffickers.

The company disagrees, claiming that teens using Instagram in the US and UK are roughly three times more likely to say that Instagram makes them feel better about their life rather than worse about it. 

The social network posted a rebuttal to The Wall Street Journal’s investigation which cited internal company documents stating that its engineers knew Instagram was having adverse effects on teens’ body image.

 

According to the documents given to the Journal, Facebook had known for two years now that Instagram is toxic for young girls but continued to add beauty-editing filters to the app, despite six per cent of suicidal girls in America blaming it for their desire to kill themselves 

THE DATA FACEBOOK WAS SHOWN ON HOW INSTAGRAM HARMED YOUNG GIRLS AND BOYS 

Question of the things you’ve felt in the last month, did any of them start on Instagram? Select all that apply

Not attractive

41% (US)

43% (UK)

 Don’t have enough money

42% (US)

42% (UK)

 Don’t have enough friends

32% (US)

33% (UK)

 Down, sad or depressed

10% (US)

13% (UK)

 Wanted to kill themselves

6% (US)

13% (UK)

 Wanted to hurt themselves

9% (US)

7% (UK)

Question: In general, how has Instagram affected the way you feel about yourself, your mental health? 

Much worse

US boys and girls: 3%

US boys: 2%

US girls: 3% 

UK total: 2%

UK boys: 1%

UK girls: 2% 

 Somewhat worse

US total: 16%

US Boys 12%

US girls: 18% 

 UK total: 19%

UK boys: 13%

UK girls: 23%

 No effect

US total: 41%

US boys: 37%

US girls: 43%

UK total: 46%

UK boys: 50%

UK girls: 44% 

 Somewhat better

US total: 29%

US boys: 32%

US girls: 29% 

UK total: 28%

UK boys: 31%

UK girls: 26%

 Much better

US total: 12%

US boys: 18%

US girls 8%

UK total: 5%

UK boys: 5%

UK girls: 4%

 

 

How Facebook’s  ‘MSI’ algorithm boosts angry reactions and threads  about divisive topics 

Facebook’s algorithm, which was overhauled in late 2017 and early 2018, boosted content that generated angry reactions which were usually posted in response to controversial subjects.

If a user posted a harmless photo whose message was innocuous or even positive, it would generate fewer points on the company’s MSI (‘meaningful social interactions’ ranking system.

A post that generated eight ‘thumbs up’ was given 8 points on the MSI – or 1 point per thumbs up.

If it generated three angry emoji faces, it was given 15 points – or 5 points per angry emoji.

A heart emoji was given five points each.

A ‘significant comment’ – usually at least a few lines in length – are worth 30 points each while a ‘nonsignificant comment’ are worth 15 points apiece.

But if a user then write a comment that sparks a reaction or ignites an argument, the MSI begins to rise since that comment is more likely to elicit emojis.

As the post amasses more MSI points, it is featured more prominently in News Feeds. 

As the threads go longer, the post amasses more MSI points – thus increasing the likelihood that the post will be seen by strangers who are outside of the original poster’s circle of friends. 

The comments and reactions generate even more emojis, likes, and responses, thus exponentially increasing the MSI ranking. 

According to the documents given to the Journal,  Facebook had known for two years now that Instagram is toxic for young girls but continued to add beauty-editing filters to the app, despite six per cent of suicidal girls in America blaming it for their desire to kill themselves.

When Facebook researches first alerted the company of the issue in 2019, they said: ‘We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.’ 

‘Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.’  

One message posted on an internal message board in March 2020 said the app revealed that 32 per cent of girls said Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies if they were already having insecurities.

About one in five said the app made them feel worse about themselves. 

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been quiet in the past about the issues the app is blamed for causing among young girls.

He told Congress in March 2021 that Instagram has ‘positive mental-health benefits’.

Instagram has a ‘parental guide’ which teaches parents how to monitor their kids’ accounts by enabling features like screen time limits and who can comment on posts, but there’s no way to verify someone’s age before they join the site.

Instagram claims it only accepts users aged 13 and over but says many lie about it when they join.

Forty percent of Instagram’s 1 billion monthly users are under the age of 22 and just over half are female. 

Instagram also does not flag any photograph or image that may have been distorted or manipulated, despite flagging materials it deems to contain misinformation, political posts or paid advertising. 

Last week, Facebook slammed the Journal’s ‘Facebook Files’ series as containing ‘deliberate mischaracterizations’ and said the articles ‘conferred egregiously false motives to Facebook’s leadership and employees.’

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, writing in a blog post, said the Journal’s stories ‘contained deliberate mischaracterizations of what we are trying to do, and conferred egregiously false motives to Facebook’s leadership and employees.’

Clegg called ‘just plain false’ an allegation that ‘Facebook conducts research and then systematically and willfully ignores it if the findings are inconvenient for the company.’

Facebook, Clegg said, understands the ‘significant responsibility that comes with operating a global platform’ and takes it seriously, but ‘we fundamentally reject this mischaracterization of our work and impugning of the company’s motives.’

Clegg defended Facebook’s handling of posts on the COVID-19 vaccine and said that the ‘intersection between social media and well-being’ remains an evolving issue in the research community. 

Facebook posted its rebuttal on Sunday – days before its top safety officer, Antigone Davis (seen above in New York in 2018), is set to testify before a Senate subcommittee

Whistleblower behind damning ‘Facebook Files’ will reveal identity and testify before Congress before the end of the year 

The whistleblower who leaked the notorious ‘Facebook Files’ which revealed that the social media giant knew Instagram could be toxic to teenage girls, will reveal their identity and testify Congress before the end of 2020. 

A source familiar with the matter said the whistleblower has agreed to work with Congress and plans to appear before the Senate Commerce Committee Consumer protection panel to discuss Facebook’s flaws, Fox Business reports. 

Facebook, which has long had to answer to Congress on how its platform is used, came under scrutiny once again when the leaked files detailed that Facebook knew Instagram was harmful to teenaged girls and still continued to rollout additions to the app that propagated the harm. 

The social media giant confirmed that Antigone Davis, its global head of safety, would also testify before the Senate committee. 

According to the documents given to the Wall Street Journal,  Facebook had known for two years now that Instagram is toxic for young girls but continued to add beauty-editing filters to the app, despite six per cent of suicidal girls in America blaming it for their desire to kill themselves.

When Facebook researches first alerted the company of the issue in 2019, they said: ‘We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.’

‘Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.’

One message posted on an internal message board in March 2020 said the app revealed that 32 per cent of girls said Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies if they were already having insecurities.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before a senate committee last November on the companies practices. The social media giant continues to be scrutinized by Congress

About one in five said the app made them feel worse about themselves. 

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been quiet in the past about the issues the app is blamed for causing among young girls.

He told Congress in March 2021 that Instagram has ‘positive mental-health benefits’.

Instagram has a ‘parental guide’ which teaches parents how to monitor their kids’ accounts by enabling features like screen time limits and who can comment on posts, but there’s no way to verify someone’s age before they join the site.

Instagram claims it only accepts users aged 13 and over but says many lie about it when they join.

Forty percent of Instagram’s 1 billion monthly users are under the age of 22 and just over half are female. 

Instagram also does not flag any photograph or image that may have been distorted or manipulated, despite flagging materials it deems to contain misinformation, political posts or paid advertising.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate committee, told the Journal that Facebook’s answers were vague which raised questions that it was deliberately hiding the research.

‘Facebook’s answers were so evasive – failing to respond to all our questions – that they really raise questions about what Facebook might be hiding.

‘Facebook seems to be taking a page from the textbook of Big Tobacco – targeting teens with potentially dangerous products while masking the science in public.’

In the letter, the company also said it kept the research ‘confidential to promote frank and open dialogue and brainstorming internally.’

Blumenthal added that the committee will also meet with representatives from YouTube and Snapchat to testify about their products affect kids as Congress moves to rein in and understand social medias growing influence among children, the Washington Post reported.   

Sen. Richard Blumenthal criticized Facebook’s actions and will serve on the Senate committee examining what Facebook knew and how it’s services affect young people

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