It may not come as a surprise to find out that social media has a negative impact on self-esteem and mental health. If you’ve ever spent some time scrolling on the apps, then you know it can leave you feeling low. Well, it’s not just in your head. Research has shown for some time that social media has a negative impact on mental health, but now it’s come straight from the horse’s mouth. According to Facebook’s own leaked internal documents (now known as the “Facebook Files” due to a Wall Street Journal series) Instagram is linked to anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and body image issues, especially among young girls.
Facebook’s research showed that of teen girls who experienced body image issues, one in three of them were made worse by Instagram. Other research has found the same connection between low self-esteem and social media. One study randomly sorted undergraduate college students into two groups. One group used Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat as they usually would, the other group had to limit their use to up to ten minutes a day. The group that experienced limited use reported less feelings of loneliness and depression than the group that used social media normally. There are many more like it. Studies consistently show the same thing: social media is destroying young people’s self-confidence.
Instagram is reportedly the worst offender for a few reasons. The way the platform is set up results in an emphasis on the body and physical features more than any other platform. Instagram feeds are set up to show the most popular, most liked content. This means that Instagram feeds set up unrealistic expectations, creating a sense that what dominates is perfection, while blocking out the flawed or less popular posts. Only seeing the most popular posts sets up an unrealistic concept of what is normal, and can cause unfair comparisons between people’s own content and the content developed by more popular users like influencers – whose content is heavily staged and edited.
Facebook bought out Instagram when it noticed a decrease in teen users in 2012. They’ve used Instagram to stay relevant as a social media company, making billions off of the platform. But at whose expense? Instagram is contributing to rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide among youth, and the people who run these programs know about it. There are few things more important than the mental health of young people. But for the One Percent, clearly nothing is more important than the bottom line.