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Facebook releases internal research on Instagram's effects on teens, ahead of testimony

The release comes after the Wall Street Journal raised new concerns about the photo-sharing app.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Facebook on Wednesday released its internal research regarding the impact of Instagram on teens after a Wall Street Journal investigation raised serious concerns about the photo-sharing app's impact on the mental health of teens, including girls' body image. 

The report, based on a "trove of internal communications" reviewed by the Journal, prompted US lawmakers to press the world's largest social network for more answers. The social networking giant has countered that the news organization misunderstood the purpose of the report and its findings.

After Facebook released its internal research on Wednesday, the Journal followed up by publishing six documents that it said were used to inform its Instagram report. The documents were also provided to Congress by a person seeking whistleblower status, the Journal said. 

Facebook Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis testified before Congress on Thursday about the potential harmful effects its services could be having on children and teenagers. Senators took Facebook to task during the hearing, which at times grew heated as Davis appeared to avoid answering questions directly.

The newly released research from Facebook is divided into two sets of slides that were heavily annotated by Facebook to reframe the material.

"We added annotations to each slide that give more context because this type of research is designed to inform internal conversations and the documents were created for and used by people who understood the limitations of the research," Facebook said in publishing the research.

Facebook's research found that "one in five teens say that Instagram makes them feel worse about themselves," according to one of the slides published Wednesday.

The research also confirmed the Journal's reporting, which found that Instagram makes body image issues worse for roughly one in three teen girls. The research showed 32.4% of teen girls in the survey said they felt Instagram made body images worse, compared with 22.1% who said it the app made issues better.

Teens also said Instagram increased rates of anxiety and depression, the Journal reported, citing company documents. 

The Journal reported on Sept. 14 that Facebook researchers conducted studies over the past three years and found that Instagram is "harmful for a sizable percentage" of young users, particularly teenage girls. Facebook has pushed back on the report, saying in a blog post on Sunday that the purpose and results of its research on Instagram are being mischaracterized.

Amid the scrutiny though, Facebook on Monday said it's pausing the development of Instagram Kids, a dedicated service it's building for children, in order to spend time focusing on developing parental supervision tools. In a blog post, Instagram head Adam Mosseri said he still believes building Instagram Kids is "the right thing to do," but added that the company wants to work with parents, experts and policymakers to demonstrate the "value and need" for the service.

On Oct. 5, a Facebook whistleblower is scheduled to testify before US lawmakers.  The whistleblower, who hasn't been identified, will be interviews on 60 Minutes on Oct. 3.