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A blessing or a curse?

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LONDON – Wake up, reach for your phone, open Instagram and start scrolling.

It is an all-too familiar routine for many of us. But how does the app affect our mental health?

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen warned that Instagram was “more dangerous than other forms of social media”, after it was revealed that the company’s own research showed it could be harmful.

At the time, Instagram said the research showed its “commitment to understanding complex and difficult issues”. As politicians continue to scrutinise social media, the BBC spoke to five people about their experiences on Instagram. Dani has a love-hate relationship with Instagram. The 29-year-old from South Wales, makes a living from the platform, and has built a community for trans people to connect online.

But she has received abuse for the way she looks. “Instagram is the biggest blessing and biggest curse of my life”, Dani tells the BBC. “When you’re a trans person with an account that isn’t private, it opens you up to abuse anyway – but some of the hate I’ve had online has been soul-destroying. “The hateful comments were vile. Someone even sent me a thread where people had taken images of me and were ridiculing me.”

Frances Haugen told a joint committee of MPs and Lords that Instagram is about “social comparison and about bodies… about people’s lifestyles, and that’s what ends up being worse for kids.” Dani, who has beaten an alcohol addiction, says she can see how social media can feel addictive. “I’ve been sober for a few years now, but I feel Instagram is bad for people with addictive personalities. It’s the same feeling you get, the need to have more and more.”

Sir Nick Clegg, vice-president of global affairs at Instagram’s parent company Meta, has defended the platform, saying that the “overwhelming majority” of teenage girls enjoy using it.

He said the company would be introducing tools to tackle harmful use of Instagram, including a nudge feature called “take a break”, which will prompt young users to log off.

Hannah spends six to 10 hours a day on social media, which she has had access to since she was a teenager. The 24-year-old, who is studying at the University of the West of Scotland in Ayr, has an account on all the major platforms; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok.

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

“It’s the last thing I check before I go to sleep. My whole day revolves around my social media.

“I’m definitely addicted to TikTok, I can easily scroll through for a couple of hours at a time. I know I am basically wasting time… there are times when I try and limit it.”

On Instagram, Hannah used to follow influencers who made her feel bad about her body image.

“It got me thinking that my body needed to look like theirs, and I began to have unrealistic expectations of being a slim model. I found it was really damaging my mental health, so I took a step back and unfollowed them.”

Now she has changed who she follows, swapping influencers for body-positive accounts.

“I realised not everyone is a size six, super skinny, six-foot model. I’ve started to follow people who look more like me, and that’s improved my body confidence.”

Hannah has received some hateful comments on Instagram.

“I got comments from some people telling me I need to lose weight because I’m getting too fat – and I’m only a size ten. It made me feel negative about my body.”

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