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Get out of bed, grab your phone, open Instagram, and begin scrolling.

For many of us, it’s an all-too-familiar ritual. But, what impact does the app have on our mental health?

After it was revealed that the company’s own research showed it may be harmful, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen warned that Instagram was “more toxic than other kinds of social networking.”

Instagram said at the time that the study demonstrated its “commitment to understanding complex and tough subjects.”

The BBC spoke to five people about their Instagram experiences as legislators continue to scrutinize social media.

Creating a community

Dani St James
Dani has built a community on Instagram

Instagram has a love-hate relationship with Dani. The South Wales-based 29-year-old earns a career off the platform and has created an online community for trans people to communicate.

She has, however, been chastised for her appearance.

Dani tells the BBC that Instagram is both a blessing and a curse in her life.

“When you’re a trans person with a public account, you’re already vulnerable to abuse – but some of the venom I’ve received online has been soul-destroying.”

The venomous remarks were nasty. Someone even forwarded me a thread where people were mocking me and taking pictures of me.”

Instagram is about “social comparison and about bodies… about people’s lifestyles, and that’s what ends up being worse for youngsters,” Frances Haugen told a joint committee of MPs and Lords.

Dani, who overcame an alcohol addiction, understands how alluring social media can be.

“Although I’ve been clean for a few years, I believe Instagram is harmful to folks who have addictive tendencies. It’s the same want you have to get more and more.”

Sir Nick Clegg, vice-president of worldwide affairs at Instagram’s parent firm Meta, defended the platform, claiming that the “vast majority” of teenage girls enjoy it.

He said the business would provide measures to combat detrimental Instagram use, including a “take a break” nudge function that will push young users to log off.

Image of the body

Hannah uses social media for six to ten hours a day, and she has had access to it since she was a teenager.

The 24-year-old, who is a student at Ayr’s University of the West of Scotland, has accounts on all of the major social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and TikTok.

“I have this pretty awful habit of checking all my notifications first thing in the morning,” she explains.

Hannah Daly
Hannah has received mean comments on Instagram

“It’s the last thing I look at before going to bed.” My social media consumes my entire day.

“I’m absolutely addicted to TikTok; I can easily spend a couple of hours scrolling through it.” I’m very aware that I’m essentially wasting time… there are times when I try to keep it to a minimum.”

Hannah used to follow Instagram influencers who made her feel horrible about her appearance.

“I began to believe that my physique needed to resemble theirs, and I had unrealistic ambitions of being a slender model.” I realized it was affecting my mental health, so I took a step back and stopped following them.”

She’s now swapped influencers for body-positive accounts in her Instagram feed.

“I realized that not everyone is a size six model with a six-foot frame. I’ve started to follow people that look more like me, which has helped me gain confidence in my own skin.”

Hannah has been the target of some venomous comments on Instagram.

“Some folks told me I needed to lose weight because I was growing too big, even though I’m only a size ten. It made me feel bad about my appearance.”

Toxic environment

Scarlett and Anisa, students at Hornsey School for Girls in North London, tell the BBC that they are aware of the hazards of social media.

Scarlett is 15 years old and utilizes all of the platforms except Facebook, which she believes is not appropriate for her age group.

“I subscribe to YouTubers who generate fashion-related stuff, such as Emma Chamberlain, who I like,” she explains.

“However, it’s quite tough for me to see someone of a very high beauty standard when I’ve just reached puberty because seeing that makes me think I should look like that.” I’ve become insecure as a result of it.

“I’ve unfollowed quite a few people.”

Scarlett and Anisa
Scarlett and Anisa use Instagram

Anisa, a 15-year-old girl, switches accounts she follows to avoid seeing harmful information.

She has, however, seen things on the internet that she did not want to see.

“I’ve found that some people’s accounts contribute to a toxic atmosphere. “As a teen, I’m aware that I need to be wary of brainwashing,” Anisa explains.

“As a Muslim, I believe there is a lot of terrible representation of us… so I unfollow whenever I see that type of information.”

The ladies said they’ve had fun on social media as well, particularly when it comes to making movies with their friends.

“I’ve attempted a lot of cooking video recipes and learnt a lot of skills from videos online,” Scarlett says.

“There are other accounts with incredible information, as well as tips and techniques and life advice – it’s not all horrible, though the downsides certainly outnumber the good.”


Instagram isn’t used by everyone at school. Leah, who is 15, has yet to be given permission to create an account.

“I trust my mother’s judgment because of all the nasty things out there,” she says.

Leah is not allowed on Instagram

“I’d like to have social media because many of my friends do, and I sometimes feel left out, but I’m also aware of its drawbacks. I’ve heard a lot of stories about my pals receiving offensive photos and videos – things that people our age shouldn’t be looking.”

In September, Meta – which was still known as Facebook at the time – halted plans to create a “Instagram experience” for children under the age of 13, named “Instagram Kids.”

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri stated that the firm would take time to listen to “parents, academics, policymakers, and authorities.”


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