Majority of Americans Who Know of Social Media Beauty Filters Find Them Troubling, CR Survey Shows
Our survey also reveals that more than half of Americans don't want more government oversight of this industry
Consumer Reports conducted a nationally representative survey of 2,263 adults in the U.S. to better understand Americans’ use of and attitudes toward social media. One of the topics in the survey was the use of beauty filters, photo editing presets that can alter a person’s appearance to make them more conventionally attractive. While the youngest respondents in our survey were 18 years old, the findings underscore—across all age groups—a concern for the mental health and self-image of younger people who use or are exposed to beauty filters.
Even when looking only at American adults who actively use Facebook accounts, 28 percent said that they had felt jealous or bad about themselves after looking at someone else’s posts. This was up from 15 percent in 2019 and 13 percent in 2018—although in those earlier surveys, we asked about Facebook specifically instead of social media in general. Yet the majority of Americans said that the government should not have more oversight over social media. There were age, racial/ethnic, and political differences in the responses. (Read on for more about this and beauty filters.)
CR conducted our survey just a month before The Wall Street Journal published internal documents from Facebook detailing the alarming effects of Instagram on some teens. The documents show that Facebook buried evidence of all kinds of issues, including a system that lets high-profile users break Facebook’s rules about harassment and incitement to violence, a weak response to the ways drug cartels and human traffickers abuse the platform, and internal research demonstrating that photo-centric Instagram (which Facebook owns) has a negative impact on teenage girls’ mental health.
Beauty Filters: Harmless Fun or Troubling Trend?
Around 1 out of 5 Americans (21 percent) who has ever had any social media account has used a beauty filter before posting pictures on social media. Among these, 9 percent said they “always or nearly always” use them and 13 percent said they “often” use them.
We asked whether they found beauty filters to be harmless or troubling; 59 percent of Americans who said they had heard of beauty filters said “troubling,” and 39 percent said “harmless.” The results didn’t differ much across age groups or genders (male or female only).
When we asked them to write in why they selected the response they did, we found that body image is a common theme for both responses—that filters can boost confidence or undermine it—but a common theme in female participants’ responses was “young people” and that the filters could have a detrimental effect on them.
Beauty Filters Are Harmless
People who said that the filters are harmless mostly said the filters are “fun,” a commonly used word in their responses. Many also said filtered photos are obviously fake and not unlike retouching professional headshots or wearing makeup.
They made me feel better about myself but do no harm to others.
It only is a symptom of their issues. The core problems can’t be addressed by changing social media.
Beauty Filters Are Troubling
People who said the filters are troubling were concerned that filters can set unrealistic and unattainable beauty standards for both the users and followers. Many responses also mentioned deception, with the terms “fake,” “dishonest,” “misleading,” and “inauthentic” appearing often.
They seem to recreate the same problem that fashion magazines perpetuated in the ’80s and ’90s—literally unobtainable beauty standards—but on a more insidious microscale.
It distorts how we actually look. I have gotten so used to having a filter, that without one I think I’m ugly. It’s society’s way of controlling how we think about ourselves.
For or Against More Government Oversight? Depends on Whom You Ask.
A majority of Americans who have ever had any social media account (65 percent) said that the government should not have more oversight over social media. However, there were differences in the responses once we broke them down by age, race/ethnicity, and political affiliation.
About half (48 percent) of Americans 60 and older who have ever had a social media account thought the government should have more oversight over social media, compared with just 22 percent of those ages 18 to 29. White Americans are also less likely than English-speaking Asian, Hispanic, or Black Americans to want more government oversight over social media. And Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say the government should have more oversight.
This multimode survey was fielded through NORC’s AmeriSpeak Panel, a nationally representative probability-based sample of 2,263 U.S. adults. Interviews were conducted from Aug. 19 to Aug. 30, 2021, in English and Spanish, online and by phone. The survey was directed by Karen Jaffe, associate director of survey research at Consumer Reports, and Tess Yanisch, survey research associate at Consumer Reports. (Download a PDF of the full survey results.)