The Impact of Instagram on Teens: What the Whistleblower Uncovered

Call it coincidence, but the night after a Facebook whistleblower’s name was announced on 60 Minutes, the sites Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram (owned by Facebook) crashed for the majority of the day.

Frances Haugen used to work for Facebook and has recently come out and given explicit details on the processes Facebook follows. Haugen discusses how Facebook knowingly ignored their impact on violence, trafficking, and the toll on young users’ mental health. 

Haugen mentioned how Facebook played an impact on the Capitol riot. She mentions Facebook knew about certain posts in the planning of the riot and ignored them. 

The primary focus of Haugen’s whistleblowing, though, was how Instagram and its algorithms can have a negative impact on children’s mental health

The algorithms reward engagement. In other words, when a post receives comments, “likes” and other interactions, it is spread more widely and is featured more prominently in feeds, instead of just featuring posts in chronological order. The engagement-based formula helps sensational content, such as posts that feature rage, hate or misinformation, travel far and wide, she said.

“It is causing teenagers to be exposed to more anorexia content. It is pulling families apart. And in places like Ethiopia, it’s literally fanning ethnic violence,” Haugen told lawmakers. She added that reforms should make “the platforms themselves safer, less twitchy, less reactive, less viral.”

So, what do Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives have to say about it? As any company head would do to “save butt,” they are saying the impacts Frances Haugen is speaking of are exaggerated and not as detrimental as she says they are. In an email to his staff, which was also made public on Facebook, Zuckerberg stated:

“I’m sure many of you have found the recent coverage hard to read because it just doesn’t reflect the company we know,” he wrote. “We care deeply about issues like safety, wellbeing and mental health. It’s difficult to see coverage that misrepresents our work and our motives. At the most basic level, I think most of us just don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted.”

What can we as users do?

Think about what you’re posting. What are your friends posting about? Are you liking, commenting, or sharing posts that spread a negative message? 

Think about how impactful these posts can be on a young, impressionable mind. Think about the societal pressures you felt in your youth and how things may have unknowingly impacted that. An article published in the U.K. delves more into how our behavior impacts what is seen and shared:

On the flip-side, if your post takes a negative slant, perhaps it is regarding animal cruelty with an overwhelming message of why it must stop. A ‘Like’ for this kind of post could be seen as an agreement or enjoyment of the act of cruelty, completely missing the actual point of the post. However, a ‘Share’ gives the user the opportunity to state to their friends why they’re sharing this type of post, “I don’t ‘like’ animal cruelty and I’m sharing this because I agree with the post and we need to make it stop”.

What are your thoughts on the Facebook and Instagram debacle? Let us know in the comments below. 

Featured Image by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels


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