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Social Media Fuelling Content Related to Eating Disorders


Ranjana Kushwaha – Ranjana Kushwaha – Policy Research Associate, her interest lies in social dimensions of the digital ecosystem.

Social media’s promotion of eating disorders is a global concern. Platforms like Instagram and Facebook amplify harmful content, worsening body image issues. Instagram promotes content related to eating disorders, YouTube influencers discuss weight loss, while Snapchat fosters group 
chats around eating disorder behaviours. Big techs must be held accountable for prioritising profit over the well-being of young people. 
Episode Summary:

Welcome to the “Unwiring Tech,”  this podcast is a platform where we understand global digital issues, and explore the ‘why’ behind each topic and incidents.  I’m your host Ranjana, and  Today, we’ll explore how social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and others contribute to the dangerous phenomenon of body image insecurity and the rise of eating disorders.

Host : It’s no secret that governments worldwide have criticised these big tech titans for their failure to address harmful content that affects children and adolescents. From online harassment and bullying to self-harm, the range of issues impacting young people is extensive. But one particular aspect that demands our attention is the promotion of content related to eating disorders in the pursuit of achieving a thin and skinny body. 

Host : In April 2022, a report titled “Designing for Disorder: Instagram’s Pro-eating Disorder Bubble” was released by Fairplay, shedding light on the active promotion of harmful content by the recommendation algorithm of the platform including eating disorders and body image issues.

Host : It’s been almost a year since a former Facebook employee leaked an internal report, revealing shocking revelations about the amplification of harmful content related to eating disorder. Startlingly, one in every three teenage girls admitted that Instagram worsened their body image issues, according to leaked Facebook papers.

Host : So, how does social media exert such a strong influence on our perception of the ideal body? Platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and YouTube play a significant role in shaping the decisions and daily lives of adolescents. Unfortunately, many young people motivated by social media platforms, have an inaccurate perception of what constitutes the ideal body size and weight, placing excessive importance on how they are perceived online, often using filters to look fair and thin. 

Host : Let’s delve deeper into one of the most prevalent eating disorders: anorexia nervosa. Anorexia involves an unhealthy obsession with maintaining an extremely low body weight, intense fear of weight gain, and an unrealistic perception of weight and shape. Individuals with anorexia resort to extreme methods to control their weight and shape, which includes limiting calorie intake, cutting down on specific foods, using laxatives, and even inducing vomiting. Theconsequences of eating disorders are far-reaching, leading to nutritional deficiencies and serious health issues.

Host : Social media platforms’ guidelines against promoting eating disorders lack enforcement. For instance, searching for hashtags in Instagram like #thininspiration results in a warning, but curiously, users are given two options: “Get support” or “See results anyway.” Choosing to see the results leads to a flood of content related to #thininspiration, #thinzpo, #slimmingworld, #skinny, and more, all promoting harmful content. Viral trends like the infamous “A4 Challenges,” designed to determine if one is thinner than an A4 paper. Creative hashtags and abbreviations bypass algorithms, encouraging young people to adopt low-calorie diets and fasting. 

Host : It’s truly shocking that Fairplay’s report indicates that children as young as 9 to 10 are following three or more eating disorder accounts, despite social media platforms’ terms and conditions prohibiting sign-ups for children under 13. 

Host : The time has come for big tech companies to prioritise safety over profits. They cannot ignore their responsibility to remove content that worsens the plight of children and adolescents. We must hold these tech giants accountable for the content they host and the devilish algorithms that amplify and recommend harmful content. 

Host : Thank you for joining me on ‘Unwiring Tech’.


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