Execs from Instagram and Pinterest have been ordered to appear before an inquest into the death of a 14-year-old girl, Molly Russell. Russell took her own life after using the apps to view extensive material on self-harm, depression, and suicide.
It’s the latest development in growing concerns about the impact of social media platforms on the mental health of teenagers, girls especially …
Concerns about the impact of social networks on the mental health of teenagers were crystalized last year, when an internal report carried out by Instagram concluded that it was harmful to as many as 20% of teenage girls using the app. Most worryingly of all, it was shown to increase the risk of suicide.
It can increase anxieties about physical attractiveness, social image, and money, and even increase suicide risk, according to Facebook’s own research […]
For the past three years, Facebook has been conducting studies into how its photo-sharing app affects its millions of young users. Repeatedly, the company’s researchers found that Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of them, most notably teenage girls.
“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said one slide from 2019, summarizing research about teen girls who experience the issues.
“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”
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.
Instagram owner Meta said that the report only highlighted the worst-case scenarios, but the company subsequently “paused” its Instagram for Kids project and pledged to make the app healthier for teens.
Molly Russell inquest
BBC News reports on the latest development.
Almost five years after she took her own life, the inquest into the death of teenager Molly Russell is due to begin.
Molly, 14, killed herself in 2017 after viewing material about self-harm, suicide and depression, on social media sites such as Instagram and Pinterest […]
In the last six months of her life, Molly used her Instagram account up to 120 times a day, liking more than 11,000 pieces of content. She is thought to have used the image-sharing site Pinterest more than 15,000 times over the same period.
The coroner, Andrew Walker, has already been warned that some of the content is “pretty dreadful” and difficult even for adults to look at for extended periods of time […]
Meta, which owns Instagram, and Pinterest are officially taking part in the inquest, which is due to last two weeks. It will hear evidence from executives from both companies, after they were ordered by the coroner to appear in person.
Meta is likely to be questioned about a number of internal documents revealed by the former employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen. These include research carried out by the company into the impact of the platform on the mental health of young people.
While the inquest is taking place in the UK, many believe the case will receive close attention in the US and elsewhere. Matthew Bergman, a lawyer from the Social Media Victims Law Centre, says that Meta execs being questioned is an important development.
Regardless of the outcome, the fact that Meta senior personnel have been forced to testify in a proceeding like this one is a significant step toward accountability.
It’s not just Meta that is in the spotlight over this issue. An investigation last year revealed how TikTok’s algorithm can send people deeper and deeper into dark places.
Help is available
If you are considering self-harm, or would simply like someone to talk to, there are people ready to help. You do not need to be considering suicide to call.
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can either phone or text from anywhere in the US. You can also find mental health resources on the organization’s website.
In the UK, the Samaritans are also available 24/7. Call 116-123, or text SHOUT to 85258.
In other countries, Google “Suicide helpline” to find local help.
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