What Facebook’s internal documents tell us about teen safety

But when Fb CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked during a congressional hearing in March to acknowledge the connection between social media and these troubling psychological well being traits, he replied, “I don’t assume that the analysis is conclusive on that.”

Simply six months later, The Wall Avenue Journal reported that Fb had been doing its own research for years on the negative effects of Instagram, the corporate’s photo-sharing app widespread with teenagers and younger adults. Six internal documents summarizing the analysis, leaked by a whistle-blower, have been posted in full on September 29.

The main points within the 209 pages are revealing. They recommend not solely that Fb knew how Instagram may very well be dangerous, however that the corporate additionally was conscious of potential options to mitigate these harms. Facebook’s personal analysis strongly means that social media ought to be topic to extra stringent regulation and embrace extra guardrails to guard the psychological well being of its customers.


There are two major methods the corporate can do that: implementing cut-off dates and growing the minimal age of customers.

A ticking time bomb for psychological well being

Tutorial analysis exhibits that the extra hours a day a teen spends on social media, the extra possible they’re to be depressed or to self-harm.

That’s necessary as a result of many teenagers, particularly ladies, spend giant quantities of time on social media.

One study in the U.K. discovered that one-quarter of 15-year-old ladies spent greater than 5 hours a day utilizing social media—and 38% of these ladies have been clinically depressed. Comparatively, amongst ladies who used social media lower than one hour a day, solely 15% have been depressed.

Though the internal Fb analysis didn’t look at hyperlinks between time on Instagram and psychological well being, they did ask teenagers about what have been, of their view, the worst facets of Instagram. One of many issues teenagers disliked probably the most about the app was how a lot time they spent on it.

Teenagers, the report mentioned, had “an addict’s narrative about their use. . . . They want they may spend much less time caring about it however they will’t assist themselves.”


They knew they have been spending an excessive amount of time on-line, however had a tough time controlling how a lot time they spent. One-third of teenagers urged Instagram ought to remind them to take a break or encourage them to get off the app.

That might be a step in the best path, however easy nudges won’t be sufficient to get teenagers to shut the app and maintain it closed. And whereas dad and mom can already set cut-off dates utilizing the parental controls included on most smartphones, a lot of them don’t know the best way to use these controls or are unaware how a lot time teenagers are spending on social media.

So higher laws would possibly have to put tooth into cut-off dates, similar to limiting the variety of hours teenagers underneath 18 can spend on social media apps. A blackout interval in a single day may also be helpful, as many teens use their smartphones at night when they need to be sleeping.

ID, please

One internal Facebook study of more than 50,000 people from 10 international locations discovered that half of teen ladies evaluate their look to others’ on Instagram. These appearance-based comparisons, the examine discovered, peaked when customers have been 13 to 18 years previous and have been a lot much less widespread amongst grownup ladies.

That is key, as physique picture points appear to be one of the biggest reasons why social media use is linked to despair amongst teen ladies. It additionally dovetails with analysis I reported in my e-book, iGen, discovering that social media use is extra strongly linked to unhappiness amongst youthful teenagers than older ones.

This means one other avenue for regulation: age minimums. A 1998 regulation known as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule already units the age minimal for social media accounts at 13. That restrict is problematic for 2 causes. First, 13 is a developmentally difficult time, proper as girls and boys are going by puberty and bullying is at its peak.

Second, the age minimal is just not recurrently enforced. Youngsters 12 and underneath can merely lie about their age to join an account, they usually’re hardly ever kicked off the platform for being underage. During a Facebook event with Instagram head Adam Mosseri, the younger superstar JoJo Siwa famous she had been utilizing Instagram since she was 8 years previous, forcing Mosseri to acknowledge that it’s simple to lie about your age.

The issue is the best way to implement an age restrict on-line for a inhabitants that’s too younger for IDs. Elevating the minimal age to create a social media account to 16, 17 or 18 might remedy two issues directly: It might forestall youngsters from signing up till they’re a bit extra developed and mature, and it could be simpler to implement. For instance, potential customers is perhaps requested to submit a photograph of their state-issued ID, which most teenagers have by 16.

Verifying age would additionally make it simpler to assemble a safer app for youthful customers which may, say, disguise follower counts or limit entry to superstar accounts, each of which Facebook’s analysis discovered negatively impacted ladies’ physique photographs.

Curbing that concern of lacking out

It’s tempting to assume laws like these would trigger teenagers to riot within the streets—in spite of everything, they love maintaining with their buddies on social media. However the teenagers interviewed by Fb for its internal analysis have been nicely conscious of social media’s downsides.

“The rationale why our technology is so tousled and has increased anxiousness and despair than our dad and mom’ is as a result of we now have to take care of social media. Everybody appears like they need to be excellent,” one teen woman instructed the researchers. Different teenagers have spoken publicly about the unfavorable results of social media.


Extra stringent regulation would assist with one other situation teenagers know all too nicely: the unwritten mandate to make use of social media or be not noted.

“Younger persons are acutely conscious that Instagram may be unhealthy for his or her psychological well being but are compelled to spend time on the app for concern of lacking out,” Facebook’s internal analysis concluded.

If age limits have been enforced, the peer stress of being on social media would vanish; no or few classmates could be there. Regulating time on the app might additionally assist if teenagers knew their buddies wouldn’t continuously be on-line.

Facebook’s analysis demonstrates one thing else: The corporate was conscious of the problems with Instagram however chose not to set these limits itself. Congress is now considering taking action.

Till they do, will probably be as much as dad and mom and youths themselves to set limits. That received’t be simple, however teenagers will probably be safer for it.

Jean Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State College. This text is republished from The Conversation underneath a Inventive Commons license. Learn the original article.