Internal Facebook research shows company knows Instagram harms children

Facebook knew of the risks teens faced on its Instagram platform when they began planning to launch an Instagram for kids.

A stunning new report from the Wall Street Journal has revealed that Facebook is aware of how Instagram harms children and teens in myriad ways. Publicly, Facebook has downplayed research that shows links between increased social media use and anxiety and depression, among other harms. Internally, however, Facebook researchers have shown that Instagram use specifically can be linked to body dysmorphia, disordered eating, and worsened mental health.

Even worse, Facebook began planning its Instagram Youth platform after it was aware of how Instagram harms children and teens!

To learn more about what Facebook knows and to see Fairplay’s response, read our press release below.


Leaked documents show Facebook knows Instagram is harmful to teens


BOSTON, MA —Tuesday, September 14, 2021—In the wake of an explosive report in the Wall Street Journal, child advocates are calling for a congressional investigation of Facebook and demanding that the company cancel its plans for a version of Instagram targeted to young children. The report, Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show, is based on leaked internal research conducted by the company. Among the findings:

  • “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,”
  • Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, “13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram,” one presentation showed.
  • In the deep dive Facebook’s researchers conducted into mental health in 2019, they found that 14% of boys in the U.S. said Instagram made them feel worse about themselves. In their report on body image in 2020, Facebook’s researchers found that 40% of teen boys experience negative social comparison.
  • Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”
  • Facebook’s researchers concluded that some of the problems were specific to Instagram, and not social media more broadly. “Social comparison is worse on Instagram,” stated Facebook’s deep dive into teen girl body-image issues in 2020.

In a letter signed by over 100 advocates and experts this April, Fairplay (formerly Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood) asked Facebook to scrap plans to launch an Instagram Youth designed for children under the age of 13. Since then, more than 200,000 parents, 4 leading members of Congress, and 44 state attorneys general have joined Fairplay in demanding Facebook abandon its plans to target young children.

Below is a statement from Fairplay’s Executive Director, Josh Golin:

“Facebook’s own research repeatedly showed that Instagram is harmful to teens, and this was shared with top executives, including Mark Zuckerberg. In a move straight out of Big Tobacco’s playbook, Facebook downplayed the negative effects of its product, and hid this research from the public and even from members of Congress who specifically asked for it. And in the ultimate display of chutzpah and disregard for children, the company now wants to hook young kids on Instagram.

This is a watershed moment. We must hold Facebook accountable for the harm it has already done to teens and stop the company from going after even younger children. Congress should demand that Facebook immediately release its research, and insist that the company cannot go ahead with Instagram Youth until a thorough congressional investigation has been conducted.

Today’s revelations also make clear why we need a design code to prevent harmful uses of children’s data. We urge Congress to pass the Kids PRIVCY Act, which would hold companies like Facebook accountable if they fail to act on known risks to children and teens.”