Here, on a single, convenient, scrollable page, are Facebook’s internal research presentation slides from the 2021 ‘Facebook Files‘ leak. The slides reveals Facebook’s own research on the potential effects of Instagram on teen wellbeing – ranging from suicide and self-injury (SSI), to sleep, anxiety, unhealthy social comparison. body image issues, and an inability to limit time spent on social media. Just click on any slide to see a downloadable high resolution version.
The original leaked files (mostly PDFs of screen grabs) can also be downloaded here.
Teen Mental Health Deep Dive [2019 internal document reporting findings from a 2-country (UK and US) qualitative research study (n = 40 in-person interviews, with follow-up video calls (n = 8) with young Instagram users (aged 13-17), supplemented by online survey (n = 2,503)]
As of October 2021, it’s unclear whether this much publicised leak will precipitate any change, as advocated by former Facebook employee and ‘whistleblower’ Frances Haugen. In addition to providing enhanced digital wellbeing tools and resources, changes could involve
Better age-gating on Instagram and other youth-oriented platforms
No algorithmically-promoted content or ads for young users
Making Facebook legally responsible for algorithmically-promoted content
Verified identities for users
Opening up anonymised Facebook data for independent peer-reviewed effects research
Putting more Facebook tax dollars to the service of improving digital literacy in schools.
In China, TikTok (Douyin) has limited access for young people to 40 minutes per day, whilst national mandates in China limit digital gaming time to three hours a week — from 8 PM to 9 PM on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The leaked Facebook research reports propose their own alternative actions.
However, with attention-seeking media attention now turning to the potential harmful effects of algorithmically-promoted content on TikTok, the further pathologisation of online-gaming/e-gaming as an addictive “Gaming Disorder” in the latest international disease manual ICD 11 that comes into effect on Jan 1, 2022, and potential harmful media effects associated with Netflix’s Squid Game, the media panic over Facebook may be over – for now.
The message is the algorithm
Nevertheless, the research reports leaked in “The Facebook Files: A Wall Street Journal Investigation” are worth re-publishing here for convenient access – for at least two reasons. Firstly, the leak may mark a watershed moment in upgrading how we deal with the impact on algorithmically-driven social media on our lives. As such, for posterity, and for future reference, it is useful to have a convenient access to the files. Just click on any slide for a high resolution version. Secondly, widespread media mis-reporting of what is in the files makes it it important to show what the data actually shows. In sum, these leaked studies are opinion polls (and followup interviews) with Instagram users designed to capture subjective user opinions about how Instagram might influence mental health. The research does not provide evidence about the impact of Instagram on teen mental health.
Of course, this does not mean that algorithmically-promoted content on Instagram, or other digital media, has no harmful or beneficial effects. Decades of media effects research, including my own research, suggest that it may. However, peer reviewed research is tentative and suggests that any effects are likely to be small – and sometimes positive, whilst at other times negative. But these Facebook studies are not the ‘smoking gun’ as presented in media reports, and they do not show that “Facebook Inc. knows, in acute detail, that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm“. Neither do they provide evidence to support any direction or presence in causality between observed correlation rising levels of social media use and rising numbers of teens reporting mental health issues.
Anyway, here are the slides from the two research presentations on the potential harms of Instagram on content on mental health. (Facebook itself, released annotated versions of these reports in PDF form, which can be downloaded here and here).
Instagram Leaked Study 1: Hard life moments – mental health deep dive
[2019 internal document reporting findings from a 6-country user survey (n=22,410*) across Brazil, India, Indonesia, Japan, Turkey, USA]
* not all respondents answered all questions, Mexico appears in footnote on slide 8, ‘SSI’ stands for suicide and self-injury.
Instagram Leaked Study 2: Teen Mental Health Deep Dive
[2019 internal document reporting findings from a 2-country (UK and US) qualitative research study (n = 40 in-person interviews, with follow-up video calls (n = 8) with young Instagram users (aged 13-17), supplemented by online survey (n = 2,503)]