Leaked documents reveal Facebook’s knowledge of Instagram’s negative mental health impacts

Image+Courtesy+of+NBC+News

Image Courtesy of NBC News

Lara Hans, Staff Writer

Whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal Facebook research on Sept. 14 that exposed Instagram’s harm to teenagers’ mental health, most specifically teenage girls. The lead revealed that Facebook has been researching this issue for the past three years and has continually found that Instagram is damaging to the self esteem and mental health of teenagers. 

Haugen is a former product manager of Facebook and left the company in May of this year after copying tens of thousands of internal documents. By September, she made the decision to leak these documents to Congress and the Wall Street Journal and identify herself as the whistleblower. 

Haugen testified about Facebook and the effect that their products have on children in front of a Senate subcommittee on Oct. 5. 

“I am here today because I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy,” Haugen said. “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people.”

In her testimony, Haugen touched on many issues she saw with Facebook during her time working for the company. She spoke about Facebook prioritizing their profits over the well-being of their users as well as how they are operating in the dark with nobody to hold them accountable.

Soon after Haugen’s testimony, Facebook Director of Policy Communications Lena Pietsch released a statement, saying that Haugen “worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives — and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question.”

However, the many pages of leaked internal documents revealed that Facebook was well aware of the harms they were causing. Facebook found that a group largely affected by Instagram were teenage girls. 

In their research, Facebook itself reported, “We make body issues worse for 1 in 3 teen girls.” Another slide read, “One in five teens say that Instagram makes them feel worse about themselves.”

In a survey done by the Hawk Talk, 52.7% of Madison students said that Instagram has negatively affected them. 

“I feel like social media companies are using their app for profit and publicity, and neglecting the negative impact it has on others and what they could do to change it,” Abby Elkowitz (‘25) said.