Facebook should take real action to minimize harm for teenage girls on Instagram

November 18, 2021 — by Kaasha Minocha
I debate whether to redownload and login into Instagram again.

I got my first Instagram account in seventh grade. Excited, I curated my profile carefully, posting every two weeks while aiming to get as many followers as possible. Scrolling through my feed, I constantly saw girls wearing heavy makeup and sharing their best moments, and I wanted to be like them. This constant desire to obtain Instagram’s impossible standards reached its peak during my junior year. 

I began to judge my own value, attractiveness and success, based on what I saw from others. I fell into the vicious cycle of comparing myself to celebrities, models and other girls at school, and reminded myself that I wasn’t “smart enough” after seeing our school’s college decisions Instagram account. 

Over time, this initial anxiety began to eat away at my self-worth, leading me to develop an overwhelming fear of rejection. Still, I couldn’t convince myself to delete the app. I felt that I would constantly be missing out.

This decision changed after listening to a Wall Street Journal podcast, “The Facebook Files, Part 2: ‘We Make Body Image Issues Worse,’” revealing how Facebook’s research concluded that Instagram, which Facebook owns, was toxic for teenage girls. Their internal study reaffirmed my belief that Instagram negatively affected my mental health. 

According to their research, the app has made body image issues worse for one in three girls and more than 40% of Instagram users said they felt “unattractive” while using the app, blaming Instagram for increasing rates in anxiety and depression. An internal Instagram presentation by the Journal added that when 32% of teenage girls “felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.” 

Most striking to me, Instagram research showed that 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced their suicidal feelings to Instagram. 

So, what shifted my decision to delete it? Through the podcast, I learned that Facebook is extremely aware of how Instagram harms users, but dismisses their negative points; company executives  do not make their research available to academics, lawmakers or the public because it might damage their reputation. 

And rather than accepting Instagram’s downsides, the company flaunts the opposite. In March 2021, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said to lawmakers at a congressional hearing that research showed that social media apps had “positive mental-health benefits” that enabled them to connect with others. 

Though this is a morally gray situation, Facebook has not tried to address these real problems. Instead of trying to minimize harm, they plan to introduce an Instagram version designed for kids, demonstrating their ignorance and inability to respond to feedback.

To combat this issue, Facebook must publish its internal research, and users should be presented with a diverse range of appearances, backgrounds, body shapes and sizes to minimize self-comparison, instead of being overwhelmed with images of idealized bodies in their feeds, advertisements and Explore Page. 

Facebook could also design an algorithm that would sense patterns to improve well-being. If a user is engaging or obsessing about posts that could be harmful, ranging from body dysmorphia to violence to cyberbullying, the app could gently nudge the user to images that lead them in a better direction. 

Instagram should take immediate steps to improve it for the most beneficial user experience, but I decided that I’m not going to sit around until they do. After much contemplation, I deleted Instagram. It wasn’t easy to click the permanent delete button, but at the end of the day, at least I know that I’m doing this for my good, rather than letting FOMO rule me.

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