What our research really says about teen wellness and Instagram


  • Contrary to the Wall Street Journal’s characterization, Instagram’s research shows that out of 11 out of 12 wellness issues, teenage girls who said they struggled with those tough issues also said Instagram made them better. rather than worse.
  • This research, along with external research on these issues, has found that teens report having both positive and negative experiences with social media.
  • We’re doing internal research to find out how we can best improve the experience for teens, and our research has informed product changes as well as new resources.

Before Facebook’s global security chief Antigone Davis appears before a Senate Commerce subcommittee on Thursday, we want to be clear on what the research recently characterized by the Wall Street Journal shows, and what it doesn’t show.

It is simply not correct that this research shows that Instagram is “toxic” to teenage girls. Research has actually shown that many teens we’ve heard from feel that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling with the kind of difficult times and issues that teens have always faced. In fact, in 11 of the 12 areas on the slide referenced by the Journal – including serious areas like loneliness, anxiety, sadness, and eating issues – more teenage girls who reported struggling with it. this problem also said that Instagram made these times difficult. better rather than worse. Body image was the only area where teenage girls who said they had issues with the issue said Instagram made it worse compared to the other 11 areas. But here too, the majority of teenage girls who experienced body image issues still said Instagram had made it better or had no impact. We explain in more detail below how the research actually matches what the Wall Street Journal claimed.

In addition to putting the specific findings in context, it is also essential to clarify the nature of this research. This research, some of which relied on comments from just 40 teens, was designed to inform internal conversations about teens’ most negative perceptions about Instagram. He didn’t measure the causal relationships between Instagram and real-world issues. These documents were also created and used by people who understood the limitations of the research, which is why they sometimes used abbreviated language, especially in the headings, and did not explain the caveats on every slide.

The study of these major societal issues and their impacts is nuanced and complex. The Journal article implied that we were hiding this research and that the results are surprising, but that is simply not accurate. Not only did we talk about the strengths and weaknesses social networks and well-being publicly for more … than a decade, external researchers too. For example, a survey and interviews researcher found that teens viewed social media “mostly” positively, although they reported both positive and negative impacts on their relationships and self-expression. And one Internet bench A survey found that the majority of teens attribute positive results to social media, as 81% said it helped them connect, while some also highlighted its negative impacts, as 43% said they felt a negative impact. pressure to post things that make them “look good”.

Our internal research is part of our efforts to minimize the harm on our platforms and maximize the good. We invest in this research to proactively identify where we can improve – which is why the worst possible outcomes are highlighted in internal slides. That’s why the most important thing about this research is what we did with it. We have a long experience in using our research, as well as external research and close collaboration with our Security Advisory Council, Young Advisors and other experts and organizations – to inform about changes to our applications and provide Resources for the people who use them. For example on Instagram:

Below, we compare what the Wall Street Journal has said and what the research has shown:

WSJ said: “On several occasions, company researchers have found that Instagram is harmful to a significant percentage of them. [young users], especially adolescent girls. “We make body image issues worse for one in three teenage girls,” a 2019 slide said, summarizing research on teenage girls who experience these issues. “

What the data shows: The slide in question, which the Wall Street Journal did not publish as part of its report and which we publish below, shows that Instagram is helping many teens with some of the most difficult issues they face. . Out of 11 of the 12 slide issues referenced by the Journal, such as eating issues, loneliness, anxiety, and sadness, teenage girls who said they had experienced these challenges were more likely to say Instagram did. these problems better vs worse. The only exception was body image. While the title of the internal slide doesn’t explicitly state it, research shows that one in three teenage girls who told us they had body image issues said using Instagram made them feel worse. – not one in three all teenage girls. This is an important difference which is not made explicit in the Journal reports. And, among those same girls who said they had body image issues, 22% said using Instagram helped them feel better about their body image issues and 45.5 % said Instagram hasn’t made it better or worse (no impact).

Slide showing Instagram search results
2019 Research Summary Slide

WSJ said: “Adolescents are not immune. In the 2019 In-Depth Mental Health Study conducted by Facebook researchers, they found that 14% of boys in the United States said Instagram made them feel worse about themselves. In their Body Image 2020 report, Facebook researchers found that 40% of teens experience negative social comparison.

What the data shows: What the study also said was that 50% of American teens and 36% of UK teens (who use Instagram and completed a survey) say they feel better about themselves after using Instagram, including included 18% of American teens stating they felt “a lot better.” In fact, out of 12 of the 12 slide issues referenced above – such as eating issues, loneliness, anxiety, and sadness – teens who said they encountered some of these challenges were more likely to say Instagram did these problems better vs worse.

WSJ said: “‘Teens blame Instagram for the increased rates of anxiety and depression, ”another slide said. “This reaction was not spontaneous and consistent across all groups. “

What the data shows: This finding comes from a focus group set of a small sample of 40 teenage Instagram users in the US and UK who have issues with body image, self-esteem, mood. negative and / or other problems. What the Journal left out was another key finding from the same study: that the same teenage users say the overall effects of Instagram are positive for them. Additionally, based on research the Journal left out, 8 in 10 American teens who use Instagram and responded to a survey said Instagram made them feel better about themselves or had no effect. about how they felt about themselves. Here are some other important details from the slide above:

  • Among adolescent girls who reported feeling sadness In the past month, 57% said Instagram had made things better and 34% said Instagram had no impact. 9% said Instagram made matters worse.
  • Among adolescent girls who reported having lived solitude Over the past month, 51% said Instagram had made things better and 36% said Instagram had no impact. 13% said Instagram made the situation worse.
  • Again, among the adolescent girls who reported having lived anxiety Over the past month, the numbers are similar: 40% said Instagram had made things better and 48% said it made no difference. 12% said Instagram made matters worse.

WSJ said: “Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of UK users and 6% of US users attributed their desire to kill themselves to Instagram, a presentation showed.”

What the data shows: When we step back and look at the full data set, about 1% of the entire group of teens who responded to the survey reported having suicidal thoughts which they said started on Instagram.² Of course, even someone who thinks it started on Instagram is one too many. This is why we have invested so much in support, resources and interventions for the people who use our services. Additionally, some of the same research cited by the Journal in the slide above shows that 38% of teenage girls who reported having issues with thoughts of suicide and self-harm said Instagram improved those issues for them, and 49% said it had no impact. .

WSJ said: “But a growing body of evidence from Facebook shows that Instagram can be damaging to many. In a study of teenagers in the US and UK, Facebook found that over 40% of Instagram users who said they felt ‘unattractive’ said the sentiment started on the application. About a quarter of teens who said they felt “not well enough” said the feeling started on Instagram. Many also said the app had undermined their confidence in the strength of their friendships.

What the data shows: One of the studies cited by the Journal points out that teens using Instagram in the US and UK are about 3 times more likely to say that Instagram makes them feel better about their life rather than worse.³ But that’s exactly why we invested in this research – and because we made these investments, we were able to put in a specific effort to work on these issues to minimize the harm and maximize the good. To suggest that Instagram is toxic to teens just isn’t supported by the facts.

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