Facebook’s whistleblower report confirms what researchers have known for years

For weeks, Facebook has been staring increasing anxiety over a leaked internal investigation into Instagram’s harmful effects on teenage girls – and on Tuesday night, Mark Zuckerberg finally responded personally to the scandal. In an open letter to Facebook employees, Zuckerberg mocked concerns from whistleblower Frances Haugen and doubled previous Facebook allegations that the report has been misinterpreted.

“If we are to have an informed conversation about the effects of social media on young people, it is important to start with a complete picture,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We are committed to doing more research ourselves and making more research publicly available.”

But for researchers studying social media, the internal investigation that sparked the controversy was essentially a confirmation of what they already knew – that Instagram makes teenage girls feel worse about their bodies and that they blame the platform for anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Megan Moreno, lead researcher at the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says Haugen’s interpretation of internal research fits perfectly with other work done on social media, particularly Instagram.

“For a particular population of adolescents, exposure to this content may be associated with diminished body image or concerns about body image,” says Moreno. “I did not feel it was terribly surprising.”

In fact, social media researchers have spent about ten years gathering evidence of how teens’ body image is affected by social media. Studies regularly show that teenage girls and preteen girls who e.g. Uses Facebook, is less satisfied with their body and does more self-objectification. A 2014 analysis of about 100 girls in middle and high school showed that those who spent more time with Facebook photos had greater weight dissatisfaction and more desire to be thin. Another study found that girls who spent more time online and on social media were more likely to eat diets. Recent studies on Instagram show similar results: female college students were less satisfied with their bodies after seeing Instagram photos of thin body types. A 2016 study of the same demographic showed that seeing photos of peers and celebrities from Instagram led to more dissatisfaction with the body.

Facebook has defended itself by pointing out that Instagram makes other teens feel more comfortable with themselves – but it has also been copied by other studies, and not all researchers find it reassuring. Teenagers who are confident in themselves may not be negatively affected by Instagram, Moreno says, or it may help their self-confidence – but children who have lower self-esteem are still vulnerable to the negative effects.

“The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” Moreno said The edge. “If you acknowledge that the people you harmed were already at risk, it’s suggesting that you’re uniquely disabling people who are vulnerable, I’m not sure that argument suggests you’re after people. best interests. ”

The results fit into a larger amount of work with other forms of media, such as reality TV and magazines. Teenagers and young girls who interact with this content also tend to say that they are more dissatisfied with their body. They are also more likely to spend more time comparing themselves to others, and that type of social comparison is linked to anxiety and fear around the way they are judged by others.

However, social media is unique in that users see people they know. “There is a sense that you are comparing yourself to people that you are somehow connected to,” Moreno says.

The consistency of the Facebook data with previous research also makes it harder to explain away the results and create doubt about the comments Facebook made when they published the underlying report. The research appears from the published slides to be strong and carefully executed, says Moreno. “The design is excellent,” she says. “Their study was designed in the way that I have seen many others design, which in turn is a measure of its quality.”

Facebook also argued that the data were not representative of all Instagram users, that there were also findings of positive benefits to Instagram, and that the number of people surveyed was small in some cases. But while pointing out limitations is an important part of the analysis of research data, the limitations here are similar to what can be seen in other studies, Moreno says.

“They probably got the data they asked for, they got exactly what they were looking for,” Moreno said. The edge, “But they did not like what they told them.”


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