Instagram may be responsible for 6 percent of teenage suicides

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Instagram may be responsible for 6 percent of teenage suicides

It does not come as a surprise to many that using Instagram changes your mood. Many people are familiar with how Instagram is filled with beautiful models sharing pictures of their perfect life, and most people understand that such pictures could lead to insecurities among teenagers and younger children. However, the actual numbers are far more haunting than you might expect.

The company Instagram and their algorithms are very likely responsible for several suicides among teenage girls, and several unrelated pieces of evidence came up that back up this claim.

Exhibit 1: a 10 years study on suicide risks and screen time

Through annual surveys from 2009 to 2019, researchers tracked the mental health and the screen time (video games, social media, reading e-books, using educational apps) of boys and girls that were about 13 years old at the start of the research. [1] The article has several findings, but one noticeable is that the long-term risk of suicide among young girls has gone up alonside their time that they use Instagram, TikTok and other social media on a daily basis. [2]

As Sarah Coyne, the lead author of the article reported, "research shows that girls and women in general are very relationally attuned and sensitive to interpersonal stressors, and social media is all about relationships." She also added that "at 13, girls are just starting to be ready to handle the darker underbelly of social media, such as FOMO (fear of missing out), constant comparisons and cyberbullying. A 13-year-old is probably not [...] ready for three hours of social media a day." [3]

Sarah Coyne is not the only one drawing this conclusion. Another recent article found a relationship between daily Instagram use and women's self-objectification on a given day. [4] Although mood effects were often mixed, daily Instagram use was more often associated with a negative mood than positive.

Exhibit 2: Instagram already knew it was responsible for causing suicidal thoughts

A lot of research has been conducted on Instagram and its influence on teenagers, but Instagram's mother company Facebook has done some research as well. According to a Wall Street Journal report published this Tuesday, [5] Facebook has done several studies on its Instagram app and concluded that it had a major negative effect on its young userbase, especially young women on the platform.

"Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse", as written by the report. A 2019 slide even reads, "teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups." [6]

Additionally, as the video below explains, 6% of American teen users who reported suicidal thoughts traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram. For British users, this reported number was 13%. [6]

The knowledge that teens blame Instagram for their suicidal thoughts must've been quite a blow for Facebook - but their response was to keep the results secret and be the #1 marketing app for teens [7] and to downplay the effects publicly, as shown in the video.

Instagram's current response to the leaked documents is that Instagram will take measure to decrease said negative effects, but the last article shows that you shouldn't expect anything to change.

Exhibit 3: downplaying negative feelings doesn't help

So far, Instagram has taken no precautions based on Tuesday's bad press - the platform TikTok, however, has added suicide hotlines to the top of the search results whenever people search topics related to suicide. [6] This sounds like a great idea, although it's like giving someone napkins after having poured hot coffee over them: helping people deal with suicidal thoughts is great, but you should stop with whatever causes those thoughts in the first place.

Making a suicide hotline more accessible doesn't address the systematic self-objectification, FOMO, cyberbullying and depression on your platform.

One can only hope that TikTok's quick fix will later be followed up by an actual solution of the cause, as a research team discovered that reducing negative consequences from social media does not help. [8]

What can we do?

It is easy to victim blame the parents if their kids commit suicide as a result to having used social media that may not be fit for them. Many children start to get exposed to the internet sooner than others, and being left out on a social network can be a great deal in the mind of a child.

However, it is very important for a parent to be careful of what they let their children use. A response on this scandal from Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, can be found in the next video. The host Jason Calacanis then gives his personal advice of how to protect your children on social media as a parent.

Other than that, it is very important that the digital human rights security and data sovereignty are voted on, to protect underage children from the mental harm that social media can bring. Read more on this website to learn how you can do that.