Facebook has shared the internal research about the impact of Instagram on teenage mental wellbeing reported on by The Wall Street Journal earlier this month. The Wall Street Journal reported that the files showed Instagram knew the social media network has a negative affect on teens’ mental health. Facebook has pushed back on the WSJ’s characterizations of its research, saying that “it is simply not accurate that this research demonstrates Instagram is ‘toxic’ for teen girls.”
The research slide decks are available on Facebook’s newsroom here, split into two PDFs. We’ve also embedded the PDFs at the bottom of this story. Notably, the two PDFs have been annotated by Facebook in an effort to provide context.
Following Facebook’s release of the two documents, The Wall Street Journal published them along with four more that it said formed the basis of its Instagram story. WSJ reporter Jeff Horwitz says Facebook ran the first two documents minutes after being given an hour’s notice of the newspaper’s plans to publish. The previously unpublished documents include research on teen girls’ body image and appearance-based social comparison.
“teens who have lower life satisfaction more likely to say Instagram makes their mental health... worse”
The release comes after significant pressure on Facebook to release the files, including from The Verge’s Casey Newton. “We know Facebook executives believe that the company has positive overall benefits for the world, and we also know that they are meticulous students of their own data,” Newton wrote on Tuesday. “It’s hard to understand why, if the data is so positive, Facebook is often so reluctant to share it.”
The Journal’s report highlighted specific findings from the document as evidence of a broader mental health problem on the app — most notably the finding that “thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.”
The slides produced by Facebook do much to back up to that interpretation, even if the company disputes specific points of the interpretation. In one particular slide, Facebook clarifies that the data is better interpreted as “teens who have lower life satisfaction more likely to say Instagram makes their mental health or the way they feel about themselves worse than teens who are satisfied with their lives.”
The release of the research arrives the evening before a Congressional hearing on the effect of Facebook and Instagram on kids’ mental health. That hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 10:30AM ET.
Update, 10.45PM ET: Updated to include The Wall Street Journal’s publication of more documents.