Story at a glance

  • Leaked company messages show ongoing research on Instagram’s effect on young female users.
  • Instagram officials addressed the report in a statement, saying studies are ongoing.
  • Most studies suggest social media use has mixed positive and negative effects on users.

Instagram takes a sizable toll on the mental health of its users, most notably young women, with roughly 32 percent feeling their insecurities are exacerbated when scrolling through the app.

This troubling figure was reported by The Wall Street Journal, which reviewed internal documents from company officials that studied the effects Instagram and its content have on female users.

“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” one internal message reviewed by reporters said. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”

Social media’s negative implications on users of all ages has been well documented since its onset and rapid popularity over a decade ago. New features like  ilters combined with other apps that allow users to digitally manipulate and alter pictures further fuel body-image issues among users.

The app’s environment has also seen its advertisement presence increase as more businesses look to market products to a young, digitally savvy audience. 

In response to The Wall Street Journal report, Instagram confirmed the research is legitimate and part of the company’s process to make its app a more enjoyable and safe experience. 

“The question on many people’s minds is if social media is good or bad for people,” Karina Newton, the leader of public policy on Instagram said on Tuesday. “The research on this is mixed; it can be both. At Instagram, we look at the benefits and the risks of what we do.”

Newton further contextualized the research the Journal published as part of the company’s ongoing studies researching Instagram’s effect on people. Some findings commissioned by the company suggest that while some users have had positive experiences with Instagram, people who felt bad about an external circumstance felt worse after using the app. 

The company has specifically focused on addressing body image concerns and is developing features to enable users to control what they see and promote different topics when a user is documented repeatedly looking at body-related content.

Published on Sep 15, 2021