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Instagram defends itself against claims that it damages mental health

The photo-centric service says that the effect of social media on young people's well-being is mixed 

Instagram can cause damage to teenagers' mental health
Instagram can cause damage to teenagers' mental health (Solen Feyissa)

Instagram recently defended itself against a report that the social network harms young girls' mental health, saying it plans to play down posts promoting myths about beautiful bodies. 

Instagram head of public policy Karina Newton pushed back against a Wall Street Journal report that cited Facebook research as showing its photo-centric Instagram service takes a toll on teenagers, especially girls. "The research on the effects of social media on people's well-being is mixed, and our own research mirrors external research," Newton said in a September 14 blog post. 

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She added that what seemed to matter most was how people use social media and their state of mind when they use it and defended her claims by citing a Harvard study noting a "see-saw" of positive and negative experiences US teenagers have on social media. For instance, a teenager may enjoy connecting with friends on the social network one day, then clash with the same person another day.

The Journal reported that Instagram has played down harm done to millions of young people who connect daily, particularly when feeling shame about their bodies after seeing what is branded as beauty in imagery there. According to the Journal, internal research pointed out that teenagers accused Instagram of increasing anxiety and depression.

On the other hand, Newton seemed to believe that this is simply an extension of the real world.  "Issues like negative social comparison and anxiety exist in the world, so they're going to exist on social media too," Newton said. According to her, Instagram has worked to address bullying, suicide, self-injury and eating disorders exposed at the platform. 

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She also said that Instagram is focused on addressing negative social comparisons and negative body image. The platform, she said, is now exploring ways to understand what kinds of posts make viewers feel bad in comparison and then "nudge" people to content more likely to make them feel good, according to Newton. “We're cautiously optimistic that these nudges will help point people towards content that inspires and uplifts them, and to a larger extent, will shift the part of Instagram's culture that focuses on how people look,” she said. 

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