Social Media

Facebook Publishes Internal Report on Instagram’s Effects on Mental Health

Facebook has quietly published internal research that was earlier obtained by The Wall Street Journal — and reported as evidence the tech giant knew about Instagram’s toxic impact on teenaged girls’ mental health. The tech giant also said it provided the material to Congress earlier today.

However, Facebook hasn’t simply released the slides to the — it has added its own running commentary which seeks to downplay the significance of the internal research following days of press commentary couching the Instagram teen girls’ mental health revelations as Facebook’s “Big Tobacco” moment.

Last week the WSJ reported on internal documents its journalists had obtained, including slides from a presentation in which Facebook appeared to acknowledge that the service makes body image issues worse for one in three teen girls. The tech giant’s crisis PR machine swung into action — with a rebuttal blog post published on Sunday.

WSJ published the material with some light redactions but also with extensive “annotations” in which Facebook can be seen attempting to reframe the significance of the research, saying it was part of wider, ongoing work to “ensure that our platform is having the most positive impact possible”.

In a further addition now the tech giant has put two internal research slide decks online which appear to form at least a part of the WSJ’s source material. The reason it has taken the company days to publish this material appears to be that its crisis PR team was busy figuring out how best to reframe the contents.

Facebook tries to downplay the significance of specific negative observations in the report. Facebook wrote in an introduction annotation on one of the slide decks, “The methodology is not fit to provide statistical estimates for the correlation between Instagram and mental health or to evaluate causal claims between social media and health/well-being.”

Later on, commenting on a slide entitled “mental health findings,” Facebook writes categorically that: “Nothing in this report is intended to reflect a clinical definition of mental health, a diagnosis of a mental health condition, or a grounding in academic and scientific literature.” The section is subtitled: “Deep dive into the Reach, Intensity, IG Impact, Expectation, Self Reported Usage and Support of mental health issues. Overall analysis and analysis split by age when relevant.”

While on a slide that contains the striking observation that “Most wished Instagram had given them better control over what they saw”, Facebook nitpicks that the colors used by its researchers to shade the cells of the table which presents the data might have created a misleading interpretation — “because the different color shading represents very small difference within each row.”

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