Media Manipulation

Is Instagram to blame for the rise in mental health issues among Generation-Z teenage girls?

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Is Instagram to blame for the rise in mental health issues among Generation-Z teenage girls?

In her senior year of high school, Sam Ko posted a Tik Tok video comparing herself to cartoon lookalikes. What started as a joke to Ko has grown into 695,000 followers on Tik Tok and over 27,800 followers on Instagram.

Ko said she uses her platform to spread awareness of current events and to share her art. She is now focusing on academics at Washington University in St. Louis.

“I definitely think that Instagram has a negative effect on teenagers in general, not just girls,” Ko said. “Both boys and girls edit their photos, and that definitely sets unrealistic beauty standards. I personally know a lot of people who have developed major insecurities as well as eating disorders from [Instagram], as well as major body dysmorphia.”

Ko said she thinks Instagram has become toxic because of people putting an unrealistic version of themselves online.

“I like the fact that Instagram has become more casual in a way, as well as the way that I get to keep up with old friends from high school and see what they’re up to,” Ko said. “It’s also a good way to become knowledgeable about current events and shop pretty easily. Although there are a lot of good things you can get out of Instagram, I feel like it has become a little bit toxic, just because of how people often times out of their photos, or put out an unrealistic version of themselves online.”

Facebook withheld information about their company knowing Facebook’s Instagram has negative impacts on mental health for teenage girls. In a study conducted by Facebook, it was found that Instagram makes body issues worse in one in three girls. Facebook did little to solve these problems.

“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,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Massachusetts Congresswoman Lori Trahan’s Deputy Chief of Staff Francis Grubar said he would like Facebook to share their internal research with independent academic researchers. The Congresswoman introduced a new legislation, called ‘The Social Media Data Act’ that sets the ground rules to provide guidance on how companies, like Facebook and Google, can share their internal research and data with independent academic researchers without jeopardizing users’ privacy or companies’ intellectual property.

“The Congresswoman has been pretty concerned about Instagram and the effects that it has been having on users, especially young users, and even within that, especially young girls,” Grubar said.

Grubar said the Congresswoman has said we need to be aware that social media apps are designed to keep users online longer.

“I think everybody has had an educated guess that Facebook was not good for the mental health of its users,” Grubar said. “Facebook has consistently said ‘that’s not what the research shows’ and then when you ask them for the research, which the Congresswoman and multiple of her colleagues have done, they say that they can’t provide it.”

Tonya Hoodyakova, 15,  has 878,000 followers on Instagram. She started gaining followers when she started ballroom dancing professionally and became a part of the US National Team, later winning first place at the US Nationals and the World Championship.

Hoodyakova said the main negative effects of Instagram are influencers who promote drugs and alcohol, and how easily fake news can be spread. Even though she has a large number of followers, she does not see social media as her future career.

“I’ve never tried to develop my instagram account for the purpose of making money on advertisements,” Hoodyakova said. “I believe that social media should not be the main occupation of a person.”

Grubar said that the Congresswoman said the first thing Facebook needs to do is respond to the request she sent along with Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and Florida Congresswoman Kathy Castor. They asked Facebook to release all of the research and the entire data sets.

“We know that Facebook is not going to proactively make the decision to make their platform more user friendly to prioritize user safety, especially the mental health of the young users,” Grubar said. “They are forcing it all onto the users themselves to be aware of what they are doing on the platform. That’s not right, but that’s where we are at right now. People understanding that is really important.”

Facebook has announced that it is developing a “new Instagram” for ages 13 and younger. Currently, the legal age for Instagram is 13 years old, but many students who illegally have used the app underage have felt some of the effects this new app might have on the younger age group.

“What is especially alarming to [the congresswoman] is that Facebook came out recently and acknowledged that they are working on creating a version of Instagram for kids,” Grubar said. “The effects that can have on users’ mental health, especially young girls, when they may feel pressure to use a filter that gives them a glow on their face that makes them look ‘perfect,’ as opposed to what they look like naturally.”

Like Grubar, Seventh Grade Dean Emily Reola also said she does not think Instagram should be for younger students.

“I don’t think there needs to be such a rush,” Reola said. “I could see this new Instagram possibly being for 12 or 13 year olds, but I don’t see the need for children in elementary school to be on social media. I don’t think developmentally it’s the right time to be on social media.”

Michelle Bracken, licensed family therapy therapist, said around the age of 12 and 13, students start to individualize and reach to their peers over their parents.

“In general, as you get older your brain develops to manage things a little bit differently than somebody who is younger,” Bracken said. “Why introduce something to young kids if we don’t have to? My mantra as a parent was just to delay things.”

Ko said she does not consider herself an influencer, and in the future, she plans to do social media on the side.

“Honestly, my social media goals are to just spread awareness of current events or events in general that I think are important, as well as have a platform to share my art since I’m an art major,” Ko said. “I don’t care about the number of followers I have. It’s just a number!