CV NEWS FEED // Facebook announced Monday that it will halt the development of a children’s app, after a national backlash from parents and conservative lawmakers.
The nixed app, Instagram Kids, has caused a firestorm of controversy, with critics expressing concern for the kids whom Facebook would reach through the new product.
In May, more 44 U.S. attorneys general from across the country confronted Facebook and asked the Big Tech giant to drop the project, citing a growing body of research–some of it conducted by Facebook itself–showing how social media is harming the mental health of young Americans.
In early September, the Wall Street Journal published an exposé about the scandal, demonstrating that Facebook not only would harm young people with Instagram Kids, but that the company would do so knowingly.
In the report, headlined “Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show,” Georgia Wells, Jeff Horwitz, and Deepa Seetharaman reviewed internal documents from Facebook. The company’s own research was in depth and damning.
In 2020, researchers at Facebook, Inc. “confirmed some serious problems,” the WSJ report stated:
“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the researchers said in a March 2020 slide presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”
Facebook “has been conducting studies into how its photo-sharing app affects its millions of young users” for three years, according to WSJ. “Repeatedly, the company’s researchers found that Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of them, most notably teenage girls.
“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.”
Facebook also found that teens “blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” another internal company slide said. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”
Facebook also found that Instagram was linked to suicidal thoughts among young people.
“Expanding its base of young users is vital to the company’s more than $100 billion in annual revenue, and it doesn’t want to jeopardize their engagement with the platform,” WSJ reported:
More than 40% of Instagram’s users are 22 years old and younger, and about 22 million teens log onto Instagram in the U.S. each day, compared with five million teens logging onto Facebook, where young users have been shrinking for a decade, the materials show.
Alongside the internal research showing the grave harms which social media — and particularly Instagram — were doing to teens, Facebook employees presented research showing the great financial benefits the company could enjoy by expanding its reach among the young.
Meanwhile, Facebook downplayed the mentally damaging effects of its social media apps in public. In fact, when called to testify under oath at a congressional hearing in March of this year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said this in answer to a question about social media and children: “The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits.”
Many commentators welcomed the news of Facebook’s scuttling of the Instagram Kids project this week.
Mary Margaret Olohan of the Daily Caller credited the WSJ report for helping put pressure on Facebook. “Legacy media’s power is mind boggling, especially when wielded for truth,” Olohan wrote. “WSJ dove into Instagram’s horrific effects on young people – Facebook halts Instagram for Kids.”
Subscribers to the Wall Street Journal can read their full report here.