December 2, 2021

Announcing the recipients of Instagram research awards on safety and community health

By: Meta Research

At Meta, we conduct our own research and consult external experts and research to understand how we can improve our products and policies to better support our community. For the past several years, we’ve awarded external researchers around the world funding to study topics like well-being and polarization that may affect people’s experiences on our platforms.

In May 2021, Instagram launched a request for proposals (RFP) focused on research on safety and community health, especially as it relates to young people and underserved communities. Today, we’re announcing the winners of these awards.

“It’s important for us to collaborate with external researchers to identify ways we can improve Instagram’s policies and products. This round of research recipients is looking at critical issues like supporting trans people’s journeys with gender affirmation online and decreasing harassment among young people.” said Kristin Hendrix, Head of Instagram Research.

Specifically, we were interested in proposals for research that would help us (1) better understand equity and fairness issues in our community, (2) develop better policies, (3) assess possible improvements to protect our younger community, or (4) better understand the mechanisms (e.g., social support, social comparison) through which Instagram usage could impact the people that use our service.

Applications were initially reviewed by members of our internal research team with diverse subject matter expertise based on a broad range of criteria including anticipated impact, plan for conducting the research and more. Finalists were reviewed and winners were ultimately chosen by leaders from Meta’s research organization.

The RFP attracted more than 200 proposals from 172 universities and institutions around the world. The winners and their research proposals are listed below. The work all of the applicants are doing is critically important, and we’re grateful to everyone who applied. We look forward to sharing upcoming RFPs in the future.

Research award winners

Principal investigators are listed first unless otherwise noted.

Chatbots as Social Support Actors (CASSA)
Celeste Campos-Castillo, Linnea I. Laestadius (University of Wisconsin Milwaukee)

“We hope the inclusion of diverse voices from communities that have experienced structural racism will help promote equity in the design of technology-driven mental health interventions like this chatbot.” – Campos-Castillo and Laestadius

Enhancing trans people’s experiences of gender affirmation on Instagram
Denton Callander, Teddy Cook (University of New South Wales)

“Instagram and other social media are really important social spaces for many trans people, which is why we’re so excited to launch the #TransIsBeautiful project. This innovative social research will help us learn about how to maximize visual social media as a safe, healthy, and affirming space for trans people of all genders in Australia and around the world.” – Cook, #TransIsBeautiful Co-Lead Investigator, Manager of Trans Health Equity at ACON, and Vice President of the Australian Professional Association for Trans Health

Improving water safety at risky Instagram hotspots via targeted information
Amy Peden, Robert Brander, William Koon (University of New South Wales)

“Chasing the perfect selfie can result in temporary loss of concentration and self-awareness which can lead to injury and death. Drowning is the leading cause of selfie-related death, with many picturesque locations near to water or on rocky outcrops or clifftops. We are thrilled to be working with Instagram to develop, implement and evaluate the best way to get water safety information to people who are hashtagging or tagging themselves at known risky locations, starting with sites of concern across Australia and California in the United States. This research has the power to save lives and we’re so excited to get started.” – Peden

Mitigating cyberbullying experiences of younger users on Instagram
Jorge Goncalves, Louise La Sala, Senuri Wijenayake, Simon D’Alfonso (University of Melbourne)

“We aim to investigate the occurrence of cyberbullying from a novel socio-psychological perspective to further understand the rationale behind this behaviour. We hope that the outcomes of our work will extend Instagram’s recent endeavours to provide a safer environment for its young users by uncovering new approaches to mitigate bad experiences on the platform.” – Goncalves

Towards proactive moderation of coordinated harassment on Instagram
Gianluca Stringhini, Chen Ling (Boston University)

“Online harassment against social media users does not come out of the blue, but it is often the result of coordination from hateful communities that pick their targets and coordinate hateful attacks against them. In this project we aim to understand what kind of Instagram content commonly receives coordinate harassment, with the goal of improving content moderation. Identifying content that is likely to receive harassment can help human moderators focus their efforts and improve the safety of Instagram users.” – Stringhini

Using IG to increase physical activity & support among BIPOC students
Olivia Johnson, Desmond Delk (University of Houston)

“From improving mental and physical health to enhancing our emotional well-being, the benefits of engaging in daily physical activity are limitless. However, many individuals do not meet the daily physical activity recommendations. As such, we are exploring the impact of IG social support communities in addressing physical fitness adherence of BIPOC college women.” – Johnson and Delk


#LesbiansofInstagram: investigating Instagram’s role in queer women’s lives
Stefanie Duguay (Concordia University)

Cancer hoax victims on Instagram: learning from community responses
Lisbeth Klastrup (IT University of Copenhagen)

Effect of likes on diverse adolescent girls’ social comparison & body image
Jessica Faye Saunders, Asia Eaton (Clark University)

Imag(in)ing better bodies: investigating teens’ narratives of photo editing
Ysabel Gerrard, Ruth Holliday (University of Sheffield)

Instagram influence on teen food choice and equity in diverse communities
Darcy A. Freedman, Callie Ogland-Hand, Nora L. Nock (Case Western Reserve University)

Sharing family narratives including people with disabilities best practices
Renee Barnes, Gerard Goggin, Katie Ellis, Tama Leaver (University of the Sunshine Coast)