Culture

THEY KNEW: Internal Facebook Data Shows Company Has Known for Years That Instagram Harms Teens

Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP

As a mother of teen girls, one of my greatest concerns in 2021 is how to keep them from becoming obsessed with social media. I’ve always suspected that it’s dangerous for them, but now there’s proof—and it comes from Facebook’s own internal data. The Wall Street Journal published a detailed report that shows Facebook’s Instagram app increases anxiety and suicidal ideation in a significant portion of vulnerable teens—and they know it and they have taken no steps to stop it.

“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said one slide from 2019, summarizing research about teen girls who experience the issues.

“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram, one presentation showed.

Instead of recognizing an obvious public health issue and taking steps to correct it, Facebook is focused on growing its consumer base in the teen category, which will lead to more of them being harmed by the toxic platform.

“Instagram is well-positioned to resonate and win with young people,” said a researcher’s slide posted internally. Another post said: “There is a path to growth if Instagram can continue their trajectory.”In public, Facebook has consistently played down the app’s negative effects on teens, and hasn’t made its research public or available to academics or lawmakers who have asked for it.

How misleading has Mark Zuckerberg been in public? This is diabolical.

“The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a congressional hearing in March 2021 when asked about children and mental health.

In May, Instagram head Adam Mosseri told reporters that research he had seen suggests the app’s effects on teen well-being is likely “quite small.”

To use the vernacular of the guy with pudding for brains currently inhabiting the Oval Office, one in three is not “quite small,” Jack. If AOC and her Democrat friends really want to tax the rich, they should start with Mark Zuckerberg. If he’s going to profit off the misery and mental distress of children, he should pay an exorbitant sin tax that is used to pay for the mental health services his inventions created a market for.

It’s very easy for people—either in the comments section (I feel you coming) or elsewhere—to say, “Just keep your kids off Instagram, stupid!” But in reality, when your teen is trying to make friends and navigate a social life without social media—during a pandemic— it’s impossible unless you’re Amish. Kids do not just meet and hang out anymore. They game together on Discord, connect and share entertainment through Instagram, chat on WhatsApp, and so many more. It’s been exacerbated by the pandemic. Saying “You can’t have that” is equivalent to saying “You can’t have friends.” It’s also a good way to cut your kids off from having lucrative careers in gaming or digital design, or any of the millions of opportunities that the tech world offers, by not allowing them to follow their interests.

My daughter’s high school sent home a voluntary form for parents to consider that asks the families to sign a contract with their kids about their use of electronics and social media. It includes reasonable boundaries but also includes a parent statement that says we as parents recognize that technology is important to our kids and part of their culture and their social life, even if we don’t understand it. I agree, mostly, with that philosophy. After all, technology has brought us all closer together and closed distances through video chats and the ability to share photos with family and stay in touch so easily. At the same time, it can be isolating, time-sucking, and lead to mental distress, depending on how it’s being used.

RELATED: Big Tech Should Pay Reparations for Harming Americans’ Mental Health and Causing Addictions

One of the things I have done is show my daughters the documentary “The Social Dilemma,” which made a big impact on them. They recognize now that the reason they reach for their phones is because they have been programmed to do it by software that is made to be addictive. It made a significant difference to show them how it works and they’ve both been more aware since watching the film and understanding that everything is not what it seems.

Where is the balance? How can healthy media be consumed and unhealthy habits that can lead to severe depression and even murder be avoided (see the tragic tale of Bianca Devins)? I have no idea. Being a parent now is terrifying. Do you install spyware on your teens’ phones and watch everything they do, or do you just hope they’re making good decisions? Do you institute “no tech” time during certain hours? Do you remove devices from their rooms at night? Everyone has ideas, and parents are out here just doing the best we can. But it sure boils my blood that the billionaires who created these things aren’t trying to fix this mess they made. The only thing they care about is how many more billions they can make, even if it means your daughter gets anorexia or your son commits suicide. As long as Zuckerberg has a big enough yacht to escape to the Granada Islands with the rest of the 1% when the next lab leak happens, it’s all good.

For all the talk in Washington about “responsible” corporations when it comes to being race-conscious or LGBTQ friendly, what about taking seriously the responsibility that Big Tech has to not harm children’s mental health? Does anyone care about that? The data is out there now. The internal studies are printed in the WSJ and they all say the same thing: Big Tech is hurting children. When do we start equating social media to tobacco companies and start slapping warning labels on their apps that say this crap might kill you!  What did they know and when did they know it? Don’t count on our feckless legislators, who are taking big, fat checks from the perpetrators every election cycle, to ever do anything about it.

Becoming Amish is sounding better every day.