Facebook rebuts reports alleging Instagram is harmful to teens

According to Facebook, its internal research actually showed that teenagers saw benefits from using Instagram.

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Mark Serrels
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The Wall Street Journal's reporting on Instagram has hit a nerve at Facebook.

Sarah Tew/CNET

After internal research surrounding the impact of Instagram on teenagers was made public in a Wall Street Journal report, Facebook has hit back, arguing that the report misunderstood not only the purpose of the report, but the results of the research itself. 

The Wall Street Journal report in question said that Facebook, via its own internal research, was well aware of the harm Instagram was having on teenagers (particularly teenage girls) -- an impact Facebook played down in public. The story, based on a "trove of internal communications" reviewed by the Journal, raised concerns around the photo-sharing app, prompting US lawmakers to press the world's largest social network for more answers. 

But Monday, in a lengthy blog entry titled "What Our Research Really Says About Teen Well-Being and Instagram," Facebook pushed back against that reporting. According to Facebook, the internal research cited by the Wall Street Journal shows that teenagers actually reported benefits from using Instagram.

"It is simply not accurate that this research demonstrates Instagram is 'toxic' for teen girls," said Pratiti Raychoudhury, vice president and head of research at Facebook, said in the blog post. "The research actually demonstrated that many teens we heard from feel that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling with the kinds of hard moments and issues teenagers have always faced."

Facebook also rebutted "implied" claims it was hiding this research, claiming it has spoken openly about the negatives of social media as well as its benefits for over a decade. 

"Our internal research is part of our effort to minimize the bad on our platforms and maximize the good," Raychoudhury wrote. "We have a long track record of using our research -- as well as external research and close collaboration with our Safety Advisory Board, Youth Advisors and additional experts and organizations -- to inform changes to our apps and provide resources for the people who use them."

Regardless, Sens. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, and Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, plan to  launch a probe into Facebook's knowledge of Instagram's reported risks for teens. 

"It is clear that Facebook is incapable of holding itself accountable," the senators said in a statement earlier this month. "When given the opportunity to come clean to us about their knowledge of Instagram's impact on young users, Facebook provided evasive answers that were misleading and covered up clear evidence of significant harm."