From Where We Are

Beyond the Filter: How Instagram affects mental health

USC students and social media experts weigh in about the platform’s impact on self-esteem.

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A whistleblower exposed that Facebook had covered up research on Instagram’s negative impact on teen mental health. One study revealed that 32% of teen girls who felt bad about their bodies said that the app made them feel even worse.

Instagram is a virtual world where people can be anyone they want, and gain a large or small amount of likes and followers based on the visual content they post.

Stacey Leasca, USC adjunct professor and former social media editor for The L.A. Times, is not surprised by Facebook’s latest findings.

This generation of teens, Gen Z and younger, are the first generation that has lived their entire life with social media. So they’ve never known a reality outside of that.

While social media has its cons, there are also reasons why people keep logging in.

It’s a great place to be able to connect with people and share ideas and knowledge and meet people and grow.

For Leasca, this is how social media should be used and she hopes users can find their way back to this.

I would really hate to see an entire generation of young people put their worth and who’s following you on social media and some idea of perfection.

The definition of celebrity has been changed by social media.

It used to be that the idea of celebrity was, again, these huge megastars of Hollywood. But now it could be the person sitting next to you in math class can have one hundred thousand followers on TikTok or Instagram.

USC freshman Victor Falcon says this issue is bigger than being a public figure.

We are all human. Sometimes we get jealous of what other people are doing. And if literally everything that we’re seeing is like good things happening in other people’s lives and like we’re at a very rough mental point, it makes us think that we’re somehow less capable. We have less achievements. We’re somehow less of a person.

Tali Callan, a freshman at USC, recently recovered from an eating disorder. Callan says she doesn’t like her body as much now but her mental health is better.

I developed a really terrible eating disorder, anorexia in high school because of social media and the beauty pressure and standards that I felt like I was held to.

For Callan, filtering her social media feed by eliminating triggering content has created a more positive social media experience.

It’s clear that Instagram can have negative effects, but users always have a choice to use social media in a way that is not harmful.