After recognizing the fact that Instagram’s focus on perfect body pictures was affecting some users’ self-image as well as mental well-being, a group of researchers from the company in 2020 stumbled with ideas of having users distracted by using funny memes and nature photos as well as other options as per the internal study they composed. The lighter content could help offset the adverse effects, they argued.
The research team further suggested that Instagram could make posts more prominent with positive body issues hashtags, such as #loveyourself, and images of normal-sized or bigger models. The study concluded that certain fundamental aspects of Instagram made the situation worse. Suppose Instagram wanted to take drastic steps to limit its users’ comments or likes to posts, or perhaps remove the filters available for photos, one of the app’s most popular features. It’s not clear if Instagram implemented any of these actions, but it certainly did not adopt the more drastic measures that would have included scrapping filters.
Even though the Instagram team was unsure of the most effective way to proceed, they had come to definite conclusions regarding the issue at present. “33% of Instagram users and 11% of Facebook users think the platform makes their body image issues worse,” the report states. “Substantial evidence suggests that experiences on Instagram or Facebook make body dissatisfaction worse, particularly viewing attractive images of others, viewing filtered images, posting selfies, and viewing content with certain hashtags.”
The 2020 report hasn’t been reported previously and is derived from documents submitted by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The documents were also made available by her legal team to Congress in redacted format through her lawyers. The redacted versions provided to Congress were obtained by a group of news media, including Forbes.
The documents of Haugen, which are now known as the Facebook Papers, provide a highly detailed view of Facebook and its struggle to manage its growth and size with the array of issues with its apps. A significant problem made clear by these documents is how Instagram affects the mental health of its users exposed to an environment of highly edited and curated photos and is then devastated in the face of their bodies, lives, and environments that do not resemble the images. This is especially worrying because of Instagram’s popularity with teenagers who are already susceptible to developing issues with their body image. (7.5 percent of Instagram users are younger than 17 according to statistics from Statista and more than 40% are younger than 24.) Politicians have been focusing on the issue to discover something that voters can grasp that may result in new regulations for social media. The Senate Subcommittee already has heard from Facebook’s Head for Safety, Antigone Davis, and Haugen, the whistleblower. The company’s investigation was launched on Tuesday. Facebook widened its probe to include and include the executives of TikTok, YouTube, and Snap, three other apps that teenagers adore.
The report on body image is in sync with earlier reporting from the Wall Street Journal, which published the first reports based on Haugen’s documents. The Journal published other internal information that showed how 32% of teenage girls reported that Instagram caused them to feel more pessimistic about their bodies. The majority of teens have told Instagram users that it made them feel less confident about themselves. Facebook has dismissed a majority of the information that emerged from the leaks by Haugen as excessively dramatic and an over-simplification of the efforts of Facebook. In a statement with Wall Street analysts on the call to discuss earnings last evening, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “My view on what we are seeing is a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to generate a false picture about our company.”
The 2020 report on body images contains a host of other shocking statistics. The report cited an earlier study which found 33% of people believed Instagram affected their body image worse, while 66% of teens who use Instagram have reported having body pictures. About a quarter of respondents said they had experienced being bullied through Instagram and experiencing some form of discrimination in the app. Nearly 30% of respondents said Instagram was a factor in causing the end of relationships in person, possibly because it offered the possibility of monitoring each other.
While offering a few possible solutions to the issue, The report also used the occasion to discuss various ideas researchers thought wouldn’t solve the problems. For instance, the researchers concluded that encouraging positive captions wasn’t particularly helpful. This could make people of average size feel better. However, it did not affect those who were overweight or thin. They also concluded that affixing warning labels to body-image-related images wasn’t very beneficial. This raises doubts about the efficacy of warning labels applied to other Facebook applications, a strategy that the company has been increasingly turning to over the last two years. The company has put titles on potentially harmful content in connection with the 2020 election or the pandemic and coronavirus vaccines, often sending users to a web-based portal with fact-checked and verified information about the topic.