On Monday, Facebook
"While we stand by the need to develop this experience, we've decided to pause this project," wrote Instagram head Adam Mosseri in a blog post. "This will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today."
The Journal's reporting seemed to show that Facebook knew, through its own research, that Instagram was uniquely harmful to teenage girls and that the company did little to mitigate these harms.
On Thursday, Antigone Davis, Facebook's global head of safety, is set to testify in a hearing before the Senate Commerce subcommittee, during which the WSJ's reporting is likely to come up.
In May, 44 state attorneys general sent a letter to Facebook's chief, Mark Zuckerberg, asking him to pull back on the company's plans. For many policymakers, Facebook simply hitting the pause button is not enough.
Facebook has "completely forfeited the benefit of the doubt when it comes to protecting young people online, and it must completely abandon this project," said lawmakers in a joint statement ahead of the hearing.
Nevertheless, Facebook continues to stand behind its idea of a kid-friendly Instagram, arguing that preteens are already logging on to Instagram and that a tailor-made platform, with enough parental controls, would be a safer option for them.
Others, like Doug Peterson, Nebraska AG, and one of the signatories of the May letter, are far more cynical of Facebook's efforts.
"Big Tobacco understood that the younger you got to someone, the easier you could get them addicted to become a lifelong user," he said in an interview, according to the New York Times. "I see some comparisons to social media platforms."
According to the WSJ, to understand Instagram's mental health impact, Facebook conducted tens of thousands of surveys and mined from its own data over three years.
All in all, a third of teen girls reported negative body image issues stemming from their scrolls through Instagram, according to Facebook's research. Instagram's focus on full-body shots, portraying the perfect lifestyle, and the addictiveness of the app itself "all exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm," reads one 2020 analysis.
"Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression," reads a slide from an internal presentation. "This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups." Of teens reporting suicidal thoughts, 13% of British teens and 6% of American teens attributed these thoughts to Instagram, the company found.
At a March congressional hearing, Zuckerberg defended the notion of "Instagram Kids" before lawmakers. He did not mention these and other mental health issues raised by Facebook's research, even though he had seen a presentation that cited that data.
Pratiti Raychoudhury, Facebook's head of research, recently claimed that the report misrepresented the company's data. In a blog post, she argued that body image was only one of a dozen aspects of overall well-being measured by the company and the only one on which Instagram seemed to have a negative impact.
Facebook's research shows many teens "feel that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling with the kinds of hard moments and issues teenagers have always faced," she wrote.