Facebook’s trials aren’t everyone’s tribulations



If you explain, you lose, according to Ronald Reagan. Right now, Facebook isn’t winning a lot of arguments.

In response to a Wall Street Journal survey earlier this month that found Facebook’s own research showed its Instagram app was having negative impacts on the mental health of many teens, the social media giant released versions this week. annotated some of that research, noting that its platform has had a lot of positive effects on teens as well.

Yet copies of Facebook research published by the Journal suggest that even the company has reason to believe that Instagram is disproportionately likely to cause emotional distress in teens compared to other social media platforms. This creates a risk that the company will become a particular target for any future regulation and investigation of the industry, to the benefit of its competitors.

Of course, it’s not as if Instagram is the only platform potentially featuring content harmful to teens. A separate Journal report last month showed how TikTok can offer sex and drug videos to minors, for example. A spokesperson for TikTok said the app doesn’t differentiate between the videos it serves adults and minors, but said the platform is looking to create a tool that filters content for young people. users. TikTok’s Terms of Service state that users must be at least 13 years old, and users under the age of 18 need parental consent.

But Instagram still stands out, even in Facebook’s own searches. According to the Journal report, in a study of teenagers in the US and UK, Facebook found that over 40% of Instagram users who said they felt “unattractive” said the feeling had started on the app. Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of UK users and 6% of US users attributed their desire to kill themselves to Instagram, a presentation showed.

In a blog post reacting to the Journal’s articles, Facebook’s head of research, Pratiti Raychoudhury, argued that the Journal’s reporting misrepresented the company’s findings on Instagram and teens, while a spokesperson of the Wall Street Journal said the newspaper supported his reporting. Regarding suicidal thoughts, Ms Raychoudhury said that out of the entire group of teens who responded to her survey, around 1% said they had suicidal thoughts which they said started on Instagram. In response to questions posed for this article, Facebook’s chief policy communications officer, Kevin McAlister, said in an email that the company is investing in research to proactively identify where it can improve. is why the worst possible outcomes are highlighted in the internal slides.

A specific Facebook slideshow released by the Journal suggests that the contribution of social media apps to social comparisons is based on perceived reality and formality, concluding that Instagram has a high degree of both, a combination unique to the platform. . The game calls the YouTube and TikTok video sharing platforms less formal, while also calling Snapchat low perceived reality and low formality, leading to a less relative social comparison.

Senators on both sides of the aisle accused Facebook of ignoring internal research that showed its Instagram app is harmful to a significant number of teenage girls. Ryan Tracy of the WSJ unpacks the takeaways from the testimony of the company’s global chief security officer. Photographic illustration: Diana Chan

The same slideshow suggests that Instagram has a particularly strong impact on teens’ notions of how they look compared to competitors like TikTok, VSCO, and Snapchat. On Instagram, celebrities are highly followed, and even regular users tend to post life highlights rather than everyday realities. In contrast, the game states that TikTok is all about dancing and having fun, while Snapchat is “protected by the element of fun that keeps the focus on the face rather than the body.” Facebook’s research also reveals that Instagram’s mechanics play a role, describing them as “addictive,” sending users “into the rabbit hole” where they “explore, find out. [and] hunt down.”

During Thursday’s hearing on Facebook and Mental Health, a U.S. senator reported that her office had created an Instagram account identifying herself as a 13-year-old girl to study the potential effects of the platform. said the account received content promoting eating disorders and self-harm during the day. This recurring exposure is part of Instagram’s secret sauce, for better or for worse. It’s one thing for a teenager to take a look at an unhealthy magazine image or fleeting “snapshot” on Snapchat and move on; it is quite another to be repeatedly targeted on the basis of an engagement.

It is not known what changes, if any, will ultimately result from Senate hearings or other regulatory reviews. The Federal Trade Commission, for example, is considering updating online privacy protections for children, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The risk for Facebook is that any new regulation will be specifically tailored to it, or that it will become a particular target for the application of even broad regulations as a result of all the negative publicity around the company.

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Even in the absence of new regulations, there are already signs that public glare is starting to impact the company’s actions. Facebook announced this week that it would suspend its Instagram Kids project to “work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators.”

Since the Wall Street Journal’s survey series launched on Facebook on September 13, Facebook shares have fallen about 9%. Many of Instagram’s social media rivals aren’t directly listed, but the chat’s parent Snap Inc. is. Its year-to-date outperformance against Facebook has widened to 25 percentage points now, from 10 points before the series started.

Like a wandering teenager, Facebook always seemed to find a way out of trouble, continuing to grow rapidly despite years of negative headlines. This time it might be different.

Write to Laura Forman at [email protected]

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