Academic research has long suggested that Instagram harms users’ mental health.

But a new eyebrow-raising study has claimed the social media app does not trigger anxiety, loneliness or depression.

Critics today accused Meta, which owns Instagram and funded the study, of using ‘Big Tobacco’ tactics by bankrolling the research, saying it ‘paints a highly selective picture to lawmakers and regulators’.

It even jars with Meta’s own internal research, which found that UK teenagers traced suicidal thoughts back to the app. 

Previous studies found a negative link between mental wellbeing and social media use, but researchers say it often had a female bias and a focus on younger adults

Previous studies found a negative link between mental wellbeing and social media use, but researchers say it often had a female bias and a focus on younger adults

Previous studies found a negative link between mental wellbeing and social media use, but researchers say it often had a female bias and a focus on younger adults

The paper’s publication comes as Ofcom consults on tough new powers under the Online Safety Act that will punish Big Tech platforms if they fail to protect users from harmful content.

The paper was presented at the prestigious Cyberpsychology Section Conference, run by the British Psychological Society.

It looked at 372 people with Instagram accounts and 100 without, with an average age of 44.

First they were asked how much they used the platform to interact, browse, and broadcast.

Then they were asked to fill out a questionnaire to assess their levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness.

It concluded that ‘adults who use Instagram are no more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression or loneliness than that those who don’t’.

Buried deep at the end of the 7,000-word study, however, it revealed the study’s authors, Professor Thomas Pollet and Dr Sam Roberts, had received funding from ‘Facebook Research’.

In a statement, under the heading ‘conflict of interest’, it claims the company played ‘no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript’.

Researchers say adults who use Instagram are no more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression or loneliness than that those who don't

Researchers say adults who use Instagram are no more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression or loneliness than that those who don't

Researchers say adults who use Instagram are no more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression or loneliness than that those who don’t

After being contacted by the Mail, the authors added that if they had found the opposite conclusion they ‘would have been published in exactly the same way’.

However, their conclusion stands in stark contrast to dozens of studies over the past decade that has found social media negatively impacts users mental wellbeing.

This includes academic research focusing specifically on Instagram.

A 2019 study of women aged between 18 to 35 showing its use ‘significantly’ worsened their mental state – including anxiety and depression.

While in 2021, whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed how the tech giant’s own internal research found Instagram made body image issues worse for one in three girls – and that 13 per cent of UK teenagers traced suicidal thoughts back to the app.

The following year, a coroner ruled social media had contributed to the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell. The inquest heard how she had been bombarded on Instagram with self-harm and suicide content.

Andy Burrows from the Molly Rose Foundation, which was set up in the teenagers name, said: ‘Drawing straight from the Big Tobacco playbook, Big Tech wants to bankroll research that paints a highly selective picture to lawmakers and regulators.

‘Meta’s hollow and predictable funding strategy is more about its bottom line than it is about furthering our understanding of social media and its impacts, whether these are ultimately good or bad.’

While admitting previous studies had found a negative link between mental wellbeing and social media use, the study’s authors dismissed them as having ‘a female bias and a focus on younger adults’, who were aged between 18 and 30.

Lead author Dr Roberts, a senior lecturer in psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, said: ‘We know that different groups may be affected in different ways by Instagram usage, and our study is one which adds to a body of research which has found that the overall use of social media on the wellbeing of adults is very small.

‘The average age of our study participants was a lot older than the average age of those who’ve taken part in previous research, which could have impacted the findings, and also suggests that different groups respond differently to social media and its possible impact on wellbeing.’

Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said: ‘By directly funding research into the harms its products inflict on the public, presumably tech companies are hoping to muddy the waters and undermine faith in the established link between social media use and poor mental health in some people.

‘Understandably, people may question the conclusions drawn from research when it has been paid for by the subject being studied.

‘This is part of much wider efforts in recent years to shut down transparency and accountability for the evident damage social media is doing to people’s health and our society at large.’

Meta was contacted for comment.

Source: Mail Online

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