“Body image problems get worse for one in three teenagers.” This text is from an internal slide of Facebook from 2019 and corresponds to one of the conclusions of one of the numerous studies that Facebook has done on the impact of Instagram on users Another presentation showed that among teenagers who reported having suicidal thoughts, 13% of British and 6% of Americans associated it with Instagram.
The public discourse, on the other hand, was another. Mark Zuckerberg said in a March hearing in Congress that “the research we’ve seen shows that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental health benefits.” Facebook never made the studies public, we know this from a leak to the WSJ.
Teens look at each other on Instagram; one in five does not like it
Scheduled in just eight weeks, Instagram was born in 2010. It was little more than an iPhone application that allowed you to take photos in 1: 1 format, apply retro filters, put a frame and share them on the internet. A boon for hipsters who could show today’s world seen through the eyes of bygone times, and an aberration for photographers: the filter decontextualized the image even more.
Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 for a billion dollars when it had 27 million followers. No one believed Zuckerberg and his co-founder Kevin Systrom when they claimed that the two social networks would be independent. Today it exceeds 1,200 million users with revenues of 100,000 million and is the fifth most used social network. Systrom left in 2018 over disagreements with Zuckerberg. However, Instagram continued to be the apple of the eye of Silicon Valley and by extension of the world; that of good vibes, that of creativity, the one that teaches us to look with the eyes of a photographer, that of Formentera and Bali, where everyone always eats sushi and never chickpeas if they are not in hummus.
And while we were blinded by so much unattainable beauty, activists, computer scientists, digital ethnographers and other not-so-pretty people denounced that Instagram was actually the anti-social network, the one that most disconnected you from the rest of the web to the point of not letting you share links: once you enter the rabbit hole you can only go forward; it’s getting deeper and darker.
Instagram does not exist; there are instagrams. For some it is an art gallery where to exhibit, for others a fashion catwalk where to expose oneself, for others a personalized 3/24 of a decontextualized reality, and for most adolescents, a mirror that reflects them. Young people who in the morning, from bed, look at the status of their social networks on their mobile phone – messages, likes, comments and emojis – do nothing more than check what their digital image is like, how others see them.
Now we know that one in five teenagers does not like themselves, one in three if we talk about girls.