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Instagram Called the Worst Social Media for Mental Health in 2017. So What's Changed Since Then?

Instagram was called the worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing in 2017, according to a survey of almost 1,500 teens and young adults. While the photo-based platform got points for self-expression and self-identity, it was also associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO, or the “fear of missing out.” Almost five years later and a multitude of efforts to moderate social media companies' outrageous tolerance for bullying and illicit activities that grow prevalent on their platforms, and nothing has changed.

Out of five social networks included in the survey, YouTube received the highest marks for health and wellbeing and was the only site that received a net positive score by respondents. Twitter came in second, followed by Facebook and then Snapchat—with Instagram bringing up the rear.

The #StatusOfMind survey conducted in 2017, published by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health, included input from 1,479 young people (ages 14 to 24) from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. From February through May of this year, people answered questions about how different social media platforms impacted 14 different issues related to their mental or physical health. You may have guessed it-- things have gotten far worse since then.

While there were certainly some benefits associated with social networking, the deleterious affects of social media on mental health are significant and unavoidable. All of the sites received positive scores for self-identity, self-expression, and community building, for example. YouTube also got high marks for bringing awareness of other people’s health experiences, for providing access to trustworthy health information and for decreasing respondents’ levels of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

But they all received extremely negative marks, as well—especially for sleep quality, bullying, body image and FOMO. And unlike YouTube, the other four networks were associated with increases in depression and anxiety.

Previous studies have suggested that young people who spend more than two hours a day on social networking sites are more likely to report psychological distress. “Seeing friends constantly on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life,” the #StatusOfMind report states. “These feelings can promote a ‘compare and despair’ attitude.”

Social media posts can also set unrealistic expectations and create feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, the authors wrote. This may explain why #Instagram, where personal photos take center stage, received the worst scores for body image and anxiety. As one survey respondent wrote, “Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect’.”

Other research has found that the more social networks a young adult uses, the more likely he or she is to report depression and anxiety. Trying to navigate between different norms and friend networks on various platforms could be to blame, study authors say—although it’s also possible that people with poor mental health are drawn to multiple social-media platforms in the first place.

To reduce the harmful effects of social media on children and young adults, the Royal Society called for social media companies to make changes in 2017.

Instead of improving moderation and providing transparency in communicating the inherent risks and dangers associated with social media utilization and addictions, social media companies did nothing. The 2017 report recommended the introduction of a pop-up “heavy usage” warning within these apps or website—something 71% of survey respondents said they’d support. Social media companies did nothing but ramp up their recruitment efforts.

The 2017 study also recommended that companies find a way to highlight when photos of people have been digitally manipulated, as well as identify and offer help to users who could be suffering from mental health problems. (A feature rolled out on Instagram in 2016 allowing users to anonymously flag troublesome posts.) Again-- 5 years later and no action on behalf of social media.

"The government can also help", the report stated. It called for “safe social media use” to be taught during health education in schools, for professionals who work with youth to be trained i digital and social media and for more research to be conducted on the effects of social media on mental health.

Back in 2017, The Royal Society hoped to empower young adults to use social networks “in a way that protects and promotes their health and wellbeing,” the report stated. “Social media isn’t going away soon, nor should it. We must be ready to nurture the innovation that the future holds.”

It's been five years since The Royal Society's groundbreaking study and their call to action and we've seen nothing but user-ship & addiction growth across all social media platforms. Where do you see this going in the next five years?

I'm offline.

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