Is Instagram Toxic? Inside the Lawsuit Alleging Harm to Young Users

For many young people, Instagram is a vibrant platform for connecting with friends, sharing experiences, and exploring creative expression. However, a recent lawsuit against Instagram’s parent company, Meta, paints a different picture.

The lawsuit alleges that Instagram’s design and practices actively harm young users’ mental health, particularly teenagers. In this article, we’ll discuss the lawsuit’s claims and explore the potential impact of social media on mental well-being.

Filtered Reality and Body Image Issues

The Instagram lawsuit alleges that the platform presents a distorted reality, where heavily edited photos and unrealistic beauty standards dominate user feeds. This contributes to body image dissatisfaction and low self-esteem among young users.

A CBS News report from 2022 sheds light on the potential dangers of social media for young people. The report highlights a study linking increased time spent on platforms featuring unrealistic beauty standards with a significant rise in body image struggles. Specifically, the study found that one-third of teen girls who engage heavily with these platforms experience heightened body dissatisfaction.

Addiction and Excessive Use

TorHoerman Law notes that the lawsuit further claims that Instagram’s algorithms are designed to be addictive, keeping users glued to their screens. This constant exposure to a carefully crafted feed, filled with content triggering emotions like envy and inadequacy, can lead to compulsive checking and anxiety. 

A 2023 Gallup poll revealed that teenagers in the US spend an average of nearly five hours daily on social media. This has raised concerns about the potential displacement of healthy activities and sleep.

Cyberbullying and Mental Health Risks

The lawsuit highlights the prevalence of cyberbullying on Instagram, a significant contributor to anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation among young users. 

According to a 2022 survey by the Pew Research Center, 46% of US teens have personally experienced online harassment at least once. This hostile online environment can exacerbate feelings of isolation and inadequacy, negatively impacting mental health.

The anonymity and pervasiveness of online bullying can make it particularly difficult for young people to escape its harmful effects.

Seeking Accountability and Change

Fortune notes that in October 2023, a bipartisan coalition of 33 attorneys general filed a lawsuit against Meta, the parent company of Instagram. The lawsuit seeks financial compensation for damages and a court order mandating changes to Instagram’s practices. 

The lawsuit argues that Meta, despite internal research suggesting potential harm, prioritized user engagement and profits over the well-being of young users.

A Discussion on Social Media Responsibility

The Instagram lawsuit raises crucial questions about social media platforms’ responsibility for user well-being. It’s a call for greater transparency within algorithms, content moderation focused on safety, and the development of features promoting healthy social media habits. 

While Instagram offers a valuable space for connection, a critical dialogue is needed to ensure it doesn’t come at the expense of mental health.

CNN notes that this lawsuit could be a catalyst for change. Platforms like TikTok have already begun implementing features to address excessive screen time, with prompts like “time to take a break.” This highlights the potential for similar initiatives on Instagram to promote healthier social media habits.

Tips for Healthy Social Media Use

Finding balance is key. Here are some tips for fostering a positive social media experience, especially for young users:

  • Set time limits or utilize apps that track social media usage.
  • Unfollow accounts that make you feel bad about yourself and follow those that inspire or uplift you.
  • Prioritize spending time with friends and family offline.
  • Remember that social media is often a highlight reel, and be skeptical of photographs that have been highly manipulated.
  • Speak with a trusted adult or mental health professional if social media is having a detrimental effect on your mental health.

What are the negatives of using Instagram? 

Excessive use can lead to comparing yourself to unrealistic portrayals of life, potentially causing anxiety and body image issues. Depression and feelings of loneliness can also be aggravated by cyberbullying and negative internet content.

Can cyberbullying cause depression? 

Yes, cyberbullying can be a significant factor in depression, especially for young people. The constant barrage of negativity and harassment can lead to feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, contributing to depressive symptoms.

How does Instagram affect self-esteem?

Instagram’s curated aesthetic can negatively affect self-esteem. Seeing heavily edited photos and unrealistic beauty standards can make you feel inadequate, especially when comparing yourself to these online portrayals.

In conclusion, the Instagram lawsuit exposes a critical concern: the potential for social media to negatively impact young people’s mental health. While Instagram fosters connection and creativity, the lawsuit highlights areas where its design may contribute to anxiety, depression, and body image struggles. 

Excessive screen time spent scrolling through meticulously curated feeds, coupled with the prevalence of cyberbullying, creates a breeding ground for negativity.