Late Wednesday night, Facebook quietly pubbed two slide decks detailing its internal research on Instagram’s effects on its teen user’s mental health. The two decks (which you can see for yourself here and here) formed the backbone of a recent investigation by The Wall Street Journal that detailed some of the company’s own research into the platform’s particularly harmful effects on teen users—and teenage girls, in particular.
Since that report came out earlier this month, we’ve seen Facebook do what Facebook does best: crisis PR. To date, this included the company publicly rebutting some of the Journal’s framing before “pausing” its work on its planned Instagram Kids app. The company was also pressured to release some of this internal research to the public and to lawmakers ahead of Thursday morning, when Facebook’s head of safety, Antigone Davis, is scheduled to face a grilling by the Senate Commerce Committee.
And Facebook obliged. But naturally, because this is Facebook, the slides come with a catch—in this case, it’s a boatload of annotations lumped onto the original research.
“Our internal research is part of our effort to ensure that our platform is having the most positive impact possible,” one slide reads. “We invest in this research to proactively identify where we can improve and better support users who experience hard life moments—which is why the reporting often focuses on potential areas to improve from a user experience perspective.”
For those who don’t recall the Journal’s initial report, much of this internal research carried some pretty damning takeaways; some who use Instagram often come away feeling anxious or depressed, for example, or that the platform exacerbates body image issues for “one in three” teen girls. On a slide that reads “most teens [who use Instagram] report feeling a mental health issue,” the annotation qualifies that the slide’s definition of mental health, “should not be mistaken for a clinical, formal or academic definition.” Another slide describing the “effect,” of Instagram on teen’s well-being notes that “the word ‘effect’ here is inappropriately used.”
“The study was not designed to identify the ‘effect’ of Instagram on well-being in a causal sense,” Facebook noted, “But is rather perception-based by asking those who took the survey to self-report.” Another slide describing how one in five teens point to Instagram as having a negative impact on their self-esteem—with UK teens featuring the most serious self-esteem effects—features the annotation that “this research was not intended to (and does not) evaluate causal claims between Instagram and health or well-being.” Attempts to downplay descriptions of the platform’s “casual” effects are pretty rampant in the annotations across both slide decks.
Facebook’s past attempts at crisis PR have continually blown up in the company’s face. In response to Facebook’s claims that the Wall Street Journal had “mischaracterized its findings,” the newspaper published six internal slide decks from the social media giant. In one of the new research slides: the company describes saturating the teen market in “4 out of 5 countries,” and clearly won’t rest until it gets younger users across the globe on its platform. PR issues—particularly about that platform doing damage to teen’s mental health—make the acquisition of that audience much tougher. In other words, this is just another case of Facebook addressing some of its worst problems only when those problems encroach on its potential growth. And that’s all the company cares about at the end of the day.