Several states now investigating Instagram's effect on children

Several states now investigating Instagram's effect on children
·3 min read

A bipartisan group of attorneys general from at least eight states have launched an investigation into Instagram to determine how the social media app attracts teens to use and stay on its platform.

The investigation follows an outcry from critics and parents as well as a revelation by whistleblower Frances Haugen that the company's own internal research found that Instagram can negatively impact the mental health of teens.

Investigators are focused on the potential "resulting" harms of "extended engagement" on Instagram and whether Instagram's parent company, Meta, formerly Facebook, violated consumer protection laws.

“Did they try to keep children and young adults on the platform longer?" California attorney general Rob Bonta told NBC senior Washington correspondent Hallie Jackson on TODAY Friday.

"When children, young adults left the platform, did they seek to bring them back? All of those are the types of techniques that would be of interest if they existed.”

Meta told NBC News in a statement that the investigation is based on “a deep misunderstanding of the facts” and the company “leads the industry” in supporting young users.

The company pointed to changes like the “take a break” feature that is now being tested to encourage users not to spend long stretches on the app, as well as ways to nudge users to other content if they’re focused on one topic.

Haugen told Congress in a hearing last month that Instagram knew its app was "toxic" for teens, particularly girls, after she previously provided internal research to The Wall Street Journal that included a slide from 2019 that read, "We make body images worse for 1 in 3 teen girls."

Another slide from a presentation last year read, "Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Facebook said the claims about the research in The Wall Street Journal were a "mischaracterization" and that the "one-third" statistic was based on girls already experiencing body image issues.

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri told Craig Melvin on TODAY in September that the company aims to research any issues with potentially negative effects of the app.

"If anybody leaves using Instagram makes them feel worse about themselves, that’s an important issue that we need to take seriously that we need to figure out how to address," Mosseri said.

Meta had initially planned on rolling out an Instagram Kids app for children under the age of 13, but has put those plans on hold. Mosseri said in the September interview that the planned app would have no advertisements, age-appropriate content and more parental controls.

Dr. Suzy McNulty, a California-based pediatrician and mother of two, has witnessed the damaging effects of social media on teens firsthand.

"We have seen a huge rise in eating disorders in our preteens and teens, and it’s very, very clear that there’s a social media (aspect) tied to it because these kids are coming in, they’re talking about glow up," McNulty told Jackson on TODAY. "It’s like basically handing your child a dangerous weapon."

"It’s just so addicting," McNulty's teen daughter, Mia, said about social media. "You could get sucked into it easily.”

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