Instagram Is Bad for Our Kids, Especially Girls, According to Facebook

Instagram Is Bad for Our Kids, Especially Girls, According to Facebook

“ Instagram is harmful to teens, especially girls” according to – not a group of apprehensive “old

fashioned” parents – but internal research that remained secret until a few months ago, conducted

by Facebook, Instagram’s owner . Until a former employee, a software engineer in charge of data

analysis, brought to light the data collected in about two years of investigations between the United

States and other countries, including Europe.

What the Research Shows

The company carried out this study to better understand the younger generation’s use of Instagram

and to detect how – and if – it affects its youngest users’ health. A clear picture of the situation

emerges from the results, published by The Wall Street Journal on September 14, 2021: Instagram

worsens problems related to the perception of one's physical appearance (such as eating disorders),

for 1/3 of teenagers. The study also shows that teenagers blame Instagram for worsened symptoms

of anxiety and depression. Exposure to images that glorify perfect, toned, highly-groomed bodies,

which receive thousands of positive comments – and, conversely, the negative remarks you might

receive for going against norms and beauty stereotypes spread by influencers – would cause

significant problems emotionally and psychologically for youth, who increasingly use the social

network. Among the girls who said they had had suicidal thoughts – including 6% of young

Americans and 13% of those in England – traced them back to Instagram.

Reactions to the Research

Frances Haugen, a former company manager who initially preferred anonymity and later revealed

her identity during CBS News broadcast, spread the research. Later on, a US Congress

subcommittee on online security, which is handling the case, has also received her.

In short, the issue has stirred many reactions, and has become, in the U.S., a political issue... while

around the world, it has re-sparked the awareness of how damaging social media exposure can be to

its youngest users.

Internal Facebook documents released by Haugen revealed that the social media giant was aware of

the dangers and did little to address the problems, nor did it attempt to limit its harmful impact.

According to Haugen’s report, the documents have also shown how the networks optimize their

algorithms and “push” polarizing content, something that was purposefully done during the most

recent U.S. presidential election. Facebook’s practices aimed at increasing their wealth likely

contribute to the growth in the use of electronics. Furthermore, the company has double standards

for the “digital powerhouses” and ordinary users evidenced by the Wall Street Journal’s The

Facebook Files . “Influencers,” i.e., those with hundreds of thousands of followers, come out on top

in intra-company censorship, which is the work of thousands of Facebook fact checkers. Just to give

a few examples, the football player Neymar can post pictures of a naked woman; incendiary

comments from ordinary users such as “Hillary Clinton protected pedophile circles”; or "Trump

called immigrants seeking asylum ‘animals.’” Despite being verified as false by fact-checkers,

comments and images of this nature are nonetheless propagated because they attract an audience.

It appears that Mark Zuckerberg's proclaimed principle doesn't check out: “Facebook Inc. allows its

three billion users to speak with the same right and weight as political, journalistic, and cultural

elites. Our standards apply to everyone and are impartial to their status or reputation.”​

Facebook's Reaction

The company defended itself by attempting to dispel concerns, saying that The Wall Street Journal

had only published part of the investigation. They then laid out all the various sections of the

inquiry and claimed that the research demonstrates how this issue has been given careful attention.

A few days after the scandal, on September 27, 2021, Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, announced

on the social network’s blog that Instagram Kids would temporarily be suspended in order to further

develop this app made for children 6-12 years old. The intention would be “to create tools for

parental supervision” during this time of suspension. For some time now, the company has been

working on a plan to intercept some of its users, children especially, who increasingly use other

platforms, such as YouTube and TikTok. Though, now they've decided to block everything until

who knows when.

Just a few hours after Haugen's hearing in Congress, it was time for Zuckerberg to act. He began on

Facebook... spreading the text of a letter he sent to all employees in which he claims that the money

the company gains isn't important to him and that those who use his platforms come first. He added

that the claims made by the former employee were simply “illogical” accusations.

In short, the social network magnate isn’t having an easy time. Some months ago he dealt with the

total temporary blackout of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, which lasted more than five hours

and cost about six billion dollars at the stock market. These losses are in addition to direct losses of

about 900 million dollars. It’s easy to imagine that the issue of Instagram's dangers to teens won't be

resolved anytime soon. Or at least, we should hope so, all things considered.

How Can We Protect Our Children?

Many are wondering if the major social media networks aren't so different from the big tobacco

corporations in years past, who, despite knowing the dangers of substance use, kept them secret.

It's a fact that children, even before they learn to read, write, or even speak, use social media and

other online platforms for hours on end every day, whether or not there is parental supervision. Kids

will often falsify their ages in order to create accounts. We hope this fact will shock parents and

bring their attention to how their children use social networks.

Many people around the world are asking: “If the alarm raised by Facebook's research is

unjustified, why were the results kept secret?” and, “Is Instagram Kids’ suspension a consequence

of the dissemination of private data and the fuss that was raised?”

These are questions that hopefully can be properly answered. Meanwhile, as parents, we can simply

keep an even closer eye on how our children are using social media networks and not leave them

alone to navigate them.

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