On October 5, the Facebook whistle-blower, Frances Haugen, testified to Congress, revealing the platform's internal research that demonstrates how Facebook is harmful to democracy and society. A whistle-blower is someone, usually an employee or former employee, who discloses information about an organization that is, in some way, dangerous, illegal, or unsafe. Before quitting in May 2021, Haugen was a Facebook product manager. But, before leaving the company, she copied thousands of pages of Facebook's internal research. Here's what you should know about Facebook's exposed information.
Facebook Harms Teens
In a “60 Minutes” interview, Haugen discusses one of Facebook's internal studies. The study proves how Instagram, acquired by Facebook, significantly impacts teen girls. It has been found that 13.5% of teen girls say Instagram makes suicidal thoughts worse. Additionally, the study reveals that 17% of teen girls say Instagram makes eating disorders or eating disorder thoughts worse.
Haugen explained, “And what's super tragic is Facebook's own research says, as these young women begin to consume this-- this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed. And it actually makes them use the app more. And so, they end up in this feedback cycle where they hate their bodies more and more. Facebook's own research says it is not just the Instagram is dangerous for teenagers, that it harms teenagers, it's that it is distinctly worse than other forms of social media.”
In other words, Instagram creates a toxic cycle for teenage girls, along with others. Despite the content triggering them emotionally and ultimately physically, they almost always return to consuming more, worsening their mental health.
Senator Richard Blumenthal's Findings
Senator Richard Blumenthal and his staff created an Instagram account as a 13-year-old girl. The staff began following accounts that promoted eating disorders and disordered eating. Consequently, accounts that encouraged extreme dieting and eating disorder behaviors were then recommended to the staff's account.
Recently, Facebook has been working on creating an Instagram for kids. However, they have announced that they are pausing their plans.
In response to Facebook's temporary discontinuation of an Instagram app for kids, Senator Edward J. Markey, Representative Kathy Castor, Senator Richard Blumenthal, and Representative Lori Trahan stated, “We are pleased that Facebook has heeded our calls to stop plowing ahead with its plans to launch a version of Instagram for children. A ‘pause’ is insufficient, however. Facebook has completely forfeited the benefit of the doubt when it comes to protecting young people online, and it must completely abandon this project.”
The Wall Street Journal's Study
Senator Richard Blumenthal decided to investigate Instagram's regulations that are meant to protect users because of The Wall Street Journal's recent findings. The study displays how Facebook is aware of the negative impacts its platforms, especially Instagram, have on teenagers.
For a number of years, Facebook has led numerous studies regarding how Instagram affects teenagers. Researchers found that Instagram is harmful to teenagers, mostly teenage girls.
However, in public, Facebook downplays the severe effects its platforms have on teens.
Haugen said, “Facebook has demonstrated they cannot act independently. Facebook, over and over again, has shown it chooses profit over safety. It is subsidizing, it is paying for its profits with our safety. I'm hoping that this will have a big enough impact on the world that they get the fortitude and the motivation to actually go put those regulations into place. That's my hope.”
Haugen's Findings Are Not Surprising
It is well known that social media is linked to negative mental health such as depression, anxiety, and, as supported by Haugen, eating disorders. When teenagers scroll on platforms like Instagram, they are presented with a highlight reel; nothing close to reality. They see an influencer's “perfect” body. They see people living what seems like “perfect” lives. When teenage girls strive to attain this unreachable “perfect” life, they begin to look at themselves differently.
Suddenly, they have more insecurities. They decide to try to change their bodies to fit a certain mold, which is orchestrated by the media. And, to achieve this perfect body, teenage girls will sacrifice their mental health and overall well-being. It is important to note that vulnerable Instagram users believe that changing their bodies to fit society's standards equates to living a happy, fulfilling life. No matter how much they change their bodies, they will never live up to the expectations they have.
Even though social media is proven to be harmful to teens, completely cutting it out of your life is unrealistic. Depriving yourself of all social media platforms will only make you want to be on the platforms more. Instead, approach social media with a new mindset. When you notice that you are comparing yourself to others, put your phone away immediately. If negative thoughts begin to consume you, take a quick break; give yourself time away from social media. Most often, you need it.
Haugen's testimony and Facebook's internal research that has been released raises a question: does social media do more harm than good? This is a very controversial and debated topic. But, to say the least, social media is both good and bad. It is important to check in with yourself from time to time to reflect on how social media is affecting you. At the end of the day, your mental health matters more than anything else. No number of likes on a post will make up for your poor mental well-being.