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Are Instagram and Facebook harmful to young people?

Facebook has announced a name change, but many critics worry they are trying to shift the narrative away from the harmful effects of its platforms.

Facebook has announced a name change, but many critics worry they are trying to shift the narrative away from the harmful effects of its platforms.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced that the parent company of Instagram and WhatsApp will change its name to Meta.

Many critics have quickly jumped on the company arguing that they are trying to shift focus away from the harmful practices uncovered through leaked company documents. In September, The Wall Street Journal reported that company documents show that Instagram leads to body image issues for one in three teen girls using the application.

Instagram's dependence on teenage user

Many studies conducted over the last decade have shown the relationship between teenage social media use and poor mental health or self-image.

A 2017 report conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health in the United Kingdom highlighted the growing body of literature "linking social media use and depression in young people, with studies showing that increased use is associated with significantly increased odds of depression."

A study from 2020, looked at one hundred fifty teenage girls "concluded that there is a significant relationship between self-esteem and body image in adolescent girls who use Instagram."

In September, the Wall Street Journal reported on leaked documents obtained by a former Facebook employee which showed that their own research found a similar relationship. The company documents read: “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.

After these findings were widely reported, Facebook, now Meta, put out a press release trying to flip the narrative claiming that the findings were taken out of context and their platforms actually have many benefits for its youngest users. They also claimed that the research had been misinterpreted and "sensationalized," to frame the company in a bad light and highlighted that around 22 percent of teen girls reported that it made them feel better about their bodies. The company also criticized the reporting for not focusing on the positive impacts social media can have on teenagers. 

While this may be true, the dangers these sites pose to minors, should be given more weight when examining the relationship minors have with social media. Most researchers understand that the abolition of outlawing of social media for minors is extremely unlikely and thus present various actions that could be taken to avoid misuse by minors.

Many of these solutions aim to limit the amount of time spent on the apps and to help users identify photos that have been altered. Studies have shown that many of the body issues developed by users relate to the tendency of young girls to compare themselves to images they see on social media. The issue is that many of the images they are seeing have been photoshopped and alerted, creating a beauty standard that is impossible to reach.


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