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November 30, 2021

Instagram Has a ‘Reel’-y Big Problem

The platform has pernicious effects on young people and states are investigating.

Several states have organized a bipartisan effort to investigate the troubling research showing Instagram’s negative effects on young teens. This comes on the heels of the Facebook “whistleblower,” the documentary “The Social Dilemma,” and Facebook’s lack of cooperation in releasing research on how Instagram (owned by Facebook) affects teens.

Eight states have joined the cause, and the attorneys general are deeply concerned with the algorithms Instagram uses to attract and sustain teens’ attention. This would potentially violate consumer protection laws if Facebook knowingly used such manipulation to entrap teen users.

How does Instagram affect teens?

“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.” This was declared by researchers as early as March 2020. Instagram has a way of allowing users to manipulate the timing and angles of the camera to make people appear more athletic or fit than they really are. Instagram also has realistic-looking filters that magically erase imperfections. Teens across the board reported that Instagram was the root of their anxiety and depression.

Why won’t Instagram take definitive steps to remove children from the platform?

Children and their data equal profit. They are the targets of Instagram’s surveillance advertising. The Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” illustrates this concept by having an avatar of a teen boy user become more and more intelligent and curated the more he uses the app. Several groups worldwide have banded together to insist Facebook stop.

But Facebook has no motivation to stop since teens are such an easy commodity. The makers of Instagram have even played with the idea of making a version of the app targeting preteens. This was thankfully shot down in September, but ideas like this have a bad habit of cropping up again later.

Instagram poses a significant risk for these vulnerable children. It merely accelerates the issues that older teens are struggling with such as poor body image, mental health issues, anxiety and depression, and gender ideology. The platform is also rife with child predators, not to mention it’s used for the purposes of cyberbullying. Even teens are emotionally and cognitively too immature to handle regular Instagram; for preteens it would be devastating.

Facebook has proven time and time again that it is not interested in listening to the concerning stats on the effect its platforms have on teens. Even if it were motivated to make a change, it may not really be capable of policing tens of millions of people. The issues are simply too large and too widespread. Maybe this time, though, state attorneys general can forestall more tragedy and put sanctions on Instagram that could help alleviate the problems it causes for teens.

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