Facebook Knew That Instagram Would Cause Harm to Teens

An internal Facebook investigation revealed that the company has known for years that Instagram can cause mental health problems in some young people.
Facebook Knew That Instagram Would Cause Harm to Teens
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 20 October, 2022

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Facebook knew that Instagram was likely to cause harm to adolescents and have a detrimental impact on their mental health. In fact, they knew that young people with a more vulnerable personality and low self-esteem would run the risk of suffering from various psychological disorders.

Large technology companies, such as Facebook, conduct studies periodically. They do it to understand the behavior of users and, in turn, the effect of the use of their platforms, as well as the changes they make to them. Instagram is one of the platforms with the most users. At the same time, it’s one of the most analyzed. As you probably know, in that app, image is everything.

When you scroll (move the screen on your mobile) on Instagram, you’re trapped by a succession of photographs in which the text is usually minimal. In this digital universe, windows open to which young people are exposed at an early age. They’re witness to scenarios, especially visual ones, that condition the construction of their own stories.

These portals are completely unreal, artificial universes where influencers are both referents and social modelers for young people. However, the life they show online is far from the life they have in reality.

To this, are added other factors that we’ll look at in this article. These factors reinforce the premise that social networks can be a danger to mental health.

Understanding life only through what happens on social networks makes young people feel they need to check their updates at every moment so they don’t miss anything.

girl hanging on mobile to represent that Facebook knew Instagram would harm teens

Facebook knew Instagram would harm teens

The Wall Street Journal published (for its subscribers) the study we mentioned earlier concerning Instagram. This is the app that was founded by Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues.

Facebook acquired Instagram in 2011 for two billion dollars. The business has so far proved profitable, even though it seems the creators knew that it could prove dangerous for potential users.

This study revealed data and information that was already known by some companies and institutions that regulate the technology market.

The University of Kentucky conducted research that exposed some troubling data. It discovered that the use of social networks, such as Instagram, causes adolescents to feel increasingly insecure, dissatisfied, and frustrated with their lives.

Instagram and unreal perfection

Facebook knew that Instagram could cause harm to teens. However, it seems that no steps were taken to safeguard their mental health. In addition, the research study we mentioned above found that the use of Instagram significantly reduced self-esteem in adolescents who didn’t feel good about their own bodies.

Furthermore, 40 percent of Instagram users indicated that they felt less and less attractive. More data exists in support of this fact. The first factor is that children and adolescents aren’t aware that much of the images in them aren’t real.

Nor do they understand that this universe of seemingly perfect people creates completely unattainable expectations and ideals of beauty. This means that little by little, their body image and the vision they have of themselves become completely distorted. They may even start to believe that their image doesn’t fall within the parameters of what’s socially acceptable.

The Wall Street Journal insists that Mark Zuckerberg and his entire team knew beforehand that this app was going to be especially “toxic”, particularly for teenage girls. In fact, Instagram culture creates an environment where only perfection counts.

Depression and suicidal thoughts: Facebook knew Instagram would cause harm

The tyranny of the like and absolute dependence on screens is leading many young people to depression, anxiety disorders, and even suicidal thoughts. The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine conducted research that highlight this worrying reality.

Since the arrival and spread of social networks two decades ago, the lives of young people and adolescents have completely changed, especially in mental health matters. As a matter of fact, the incidence of depression and suicidal behavior has risen, to the point that suicide is the leading cause of death between the ages of 10 and 34.

The feeling of missing something if they’re not connected and the obsession with the constant reinforcement of their photos and publications leads them to build an unhealthy lifestyle. There’s also another fact. This is that their brains, especially at these ages, are constantly programmed to compare themselves to others.

In the past, this could’ve been useful in order for us to evolve and learn from each other. However, in the digital age, it doesn’t make any sense. Because they’re using unrealistic and unattainable models as references.

Teens Talking About Facebook Knowing Instagram Would Harm Teens

The importance of education and prevention

Facebook knew that Instagram would cause harm to adolescents, and yet it hasn’t changed even one of its mechanisms to reduce this impact. What’s more, the algorithms of the app mean it suggests to us more accounts to look at based on what we’ve already viewed. For example, if a teenager follows an influencer who explains how to lose weight, they’ll receive more publicity on the same topic.

What can be done about this worrying reality? The solution isn’t in prohibiting their use. In fact, this would be of little benefit. What’s really useful is education and prevention.

Therefore, it’s essential to work on aspects such as self-esteem, acceptance of one’s own body, and other dynamics that go beyond the screens. This would help anchor these young people to the real world. It’s a good idea to keep it in mind, for the future health and happiness of our young people.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Rajanala S, Maymone MBC, Vashi NA. Selfies-Living in the Era of Filtered Photographs. JAMA Facial Plast Surg. 2018 Dec 1;20(6):443-444. doi: 10.1001/jamafacial.2018.0486. PMID: 30073294.
  • Salomon I, Brown CS. The Selfie Generation: Examining the Relationship Between Social Media Use and Early Adolescent Body Image. The Journal of Early Adolescence. 2019;39(4):539-560. doi:10.1177/0272431618770809

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.