The Wall Street Journal has reported that Facebook management is fully aware of the fact that Instagram might not be so good for the self-image of its more youthful users (and, I would hazard, it's not-so-youthful users either.)
The pearl-clutchers among us are surprised that Facebook didn't fess up. In an internal presentation seen by the Wall Street Journal, which reported on the Facebook study into Instagram users' state of mind, they concluded that: “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.”
And this gem: “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.”
This too: “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”
But surprise, surprise, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg blithely stated earlier in 2021 that social media is more likely to have positive mental health effects on teens and Adam Mosseri, the head honcho of Instagram, said he'd seen research suggesting the effect of social media on teenagers' mental health is probably “quite small”.
Which is why they probably typed “Instagram Kids” into their money churning algorithm and concluded, “Hell Yeah! Let's take our nefarious capitalist project designed to cause maximum social anxiety and a flurry of acquisitive needs through constant comparisons to people whose lives look sleeker, prettier, more facetuned and definitely richer — much, much, richer — to the little children. Catch 'em early and you can keep 'em hooked to a drip, drip, drip of overwhelming, aspirational desire for a lifetime as we cash in on their eyeballs and their neurosis.”
As a certain prophet once said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of Instagram belongs to such as these.” I mean why not?
If you're catching the children in the shopping aisle with bright, sweet tempting things at their eye level, why not do the same thing on the internet? Never mind that as Facebook knows, per their report, “Aspects on Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm ... pressure to share only the best moments and to look perfect could pitch teenagers into depression, low self-esteem and eating disorders.” Just start a little earlier, when young minds can be moulded more effectively.
A public outcry on behalf of the poor beleaguered teens has resulted in Instagram shelving plans to capture the children — for now.
As Mosseri said in his press release to this effect, “I have three children and their safety is the most important thing in my life.” I wonder if by that he means he's following in the parenting footsteps of Bill Gates, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian and Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel who all, on the record, limit their children' access to the socials and the internet in what you'd call a brutally authoritarian fashion. Basically they have all cut off the feed.
Anyway, never mind Instagram Kids. I think it's much safer to let the little children dance maniacally in their rooms to the tune of the Chinese empire on TikTok while building brave new worlds on Minecraft.
• This article was first published by the Sunday Times.