Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls—and Facebook Knows It
Facebook researchers found that “32 percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” according to a September 14 Wall Street Journal report. Teens therefore “blame Instagram” for increasing depression and anxiety, they added.
With 1.2 billion daily users, Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is one of the most popular social-networking sites. Before Instagram, unrealistically airbrushed photos were mostly limited to magazines. But because of Instagram, they are now only a swipe and a tap away. And this overload of unrealistic beauty standards is affecting teenage girls the worst.
In one slide from 2019, the researchers discovered that Instagram makes “body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teen girls.” One study of American and British teens found that 40 percent of users who feel “unattractive” and 25 percent of those who feel “not good enough” said the feeling began on the app.
But there is a massive difference between what Facebook knows internally and what it tells the public.
For example, in a March 2021 congressional hearing, Facebook ceo Mark Zuckerberg said, “The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental health benefits” (emphasis added throughout). This public testimony is despite his own researchers finding that Instagram worsened the body image of 32 percent of teenage girls.
Of Instagram’s 1 billion users, over 40 percent are under the age of 22. These young people are key to maintaining and expanding its annual revenue of over $100 billion. “Instagram is well positioned to resonate and win with young people,” the researchers said. “There is a path to growth if Instagram can continue their trajectory.” And so Instagram specifically targets young people. And Facebook is determined to hide that its interface of carefully manicured and filtered profiles directly results in discouraged and depressed teenage girls.
“Facebook’s answers were so evasive—failing to even respond to all our questions—that they really raise questions about what Facebook might be hiding,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal wrote in an e-mail after the March hearings. “Facebook seems to be taking a page from the textbook of Big Tobacco—targeting teens with potentially dangerous products while masking the science in public.”
“If you believe that R.J. Reynolds [the founder of America’s second-largest tobacco company] should have been more truthful about the link between smoking and lung cancer,” Prof. Jean Twenge of San Diego State University said, “then you should probably believe that Facebook should be more upfront about links to depression among teen girls.”
Social media companies have known about their sites’ destructive potential from their very inception. In a 2017 interview, Sean Parker, Facebook’s founding president, told Axios about their strategy:
[W]e need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever, and that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments. …
God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains. The thought process that went into building these applications—Facebook being the first of them—to really understand it, that thought process was all about: How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible? …
It’s a social validation feedback loop. It’s exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with because you’re exploiting vulnerabilities in human psychology. [We] understood this, consciously, and we did it anyway.
Facebook and Instagram don’t care about your children; they care about revenue and growth potential, no matter the collateral damage.
Is there any group more vulnerable than teenage girls when it comes to social media?
The study by Facebook researchers found that teenagers know that the app is bad for them, but they aren’t logging off. “Teens told us that they don’t like the amount of time they spend on the app but feel like they have to be present,” the study said. “They often feel ‘addicted’ and know that what they’re seeing is bad for their mental health but feel unable to stop themselves.”
This is what the exploitation of vulnerabilities in human psychology looks like, especially during this time of unconstitutional lockdowns that have humans starved for face-to-face interaction.
“We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection,” Parker went on to say, “because we get rewarded in these short-term signals: hearts, likes, thumbs up. And we conflate that with value, and we conflate that with truth. And instead, what it really is, is fake, brittle popularity that’s short-term and that leaves you even more … vacant and empty before you did it.”
Young people today are growing up in a world full of social media companies, clothing brands and an entertainment industry that think and operate just as Facebook does. They are under a constant onslaught of anxiety-inducing content.
If parents, and particularly fathers, don’t protect and raise their children, Facebook will.
In his article “The Love of a Father,” Trumpet executive editor Stephen Flurry wrote:
Your daughter is your responsibility. Don’t let society bring her up. That’s your job: to raise her up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
You can do it! …
Begin teaching early—and do it often. Don’t wait until a crisis before you reach out to your daughter. Don’t expect Mom to handle all the teaching while you make the money.
Don’t rely on schools to do your job. Even if schools get the instruction right, which they most often don’t, they are still poor substitutes for a loving father who is diligently teaching his daughter how to live.
Facebook doesn’t care about your daughter. But you do! It’s never too late to take the action to protect your children from corrupt social media companies. It’s never too late to cut out screentime. It’s never too late to teach them the nature of true beauty and how God created it to point to spiritual beauty, which is what truly matters.