Instagram Not Toxic for Teens: Facebook

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Facebook responded nearly two weeks after The Wall Street Journal reported that Instagram made body image problems worse for one in three teens, according to Facebook's own data.

Facebook responded nearly two weeks after The Wall Street Journal reported that Instagram made body image problems worse for one in three teens, according to Facebook's own data. The salvo is courtesy of Pratiti Raychoudhury, Facebook's vice president and head of research. Raychoudhury's post in the Facebook newsroom asserts that The Wall Street Journal's characterization of the internal investigation "is not accurate" and blames it all on a misinterpretation of the data that the WSJ has in its possession.

On September 14, The Wall Street Journal published a story on The Facebook Files, which is a series of stories based on a massive amount of internal Facebook documents leaked to the newspaper. The Sept. 14 article focused on data suggesting that Instagram had an extremely damaging effect on teenagers, especially teenage girls. The WSJ said Facebook was well aware of the harm its products were doing to teens and that the company "has made minimal efforts to address these issues and plays them down in public."

Facebook has been evasive about the content of the study cited by the WSJ. But Facebook's global head of security, Antigone Davis, is expected to appear before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Thursday to answer the claims made in the story and plans for a new "Instagram for kids." Raychoudhury specifically cites that audience as the reason for the post.

Raychoudhury ignores many of the issues raised in the WSJ article, including that teens claimed they felt addicted to Instagram. Instead, he focuses his energies on devaluing Facebook's own research. Much of the WSJ's most scathing claims, according to Raychoudhury, centre on a study that only had 40 participants. That would be a negligible sample size from any point of view, but especially when talking about a platform with more than a billion users. The small study was "designed to inform internal conversations about teens' most negative perceptions of Instagram," says Raychoudhury.

Raychoudhury also takes offence at the WSJ referring to an internal Facebook slide that states that "we made the body images worse for 1 in 3 teens." Raychoudhury repeatedly points out that the body image problem was just one of 12 possible problems Instagram could make worse for teenage girls. "Body image was the only area where teen girls who reported struggling with the issue said Instagram made it worse as compared to the other 11 areas," she writes.

Unfortunately, neither Facebook, Instagram, or Raychoudhury have shared the actual data that she repeatedly cites in her response to the Journal reports. Without seeing the data for ourselves, it is extremely difficult to evaluate the interpretations of The Wall Street Journal or Raychoudhury.

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