The United Kingdom’s Department of Health Secretary Matt Hancock challenged social media companies to improve upon their practices when it comes to handling eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia.
The Health Secretary hosted a round table discussion with the social media giants to lessen instances of influencing vulnerable teens into self-harm. Content that encourages self-harm, eating disorders and misinformation leads to the increase of reported cases.
“Today the meeting was called to be about the promotion of self-harm and suicide material, but we also spoke about tackling eating disorders and some anti-vaccination messages which are so important to tackle to ensure they do not get prevalence online,” Hancock says to the reporters.
Hancock is pleased that the social media companies agree and started discussing actions that each would take.
“I feel the tech companies are starting to get the message, they’re starting to take action – but there’s much more to do.”
Instagram has affirmed its commitment to the challenge. The photo-sharing app has announced that it will remove posts that promote eating disorders.
Aside from removing harmful content, Instagram and other tech companies involved also agreed to pay a reward for anyone who will help them remove content that encourages suicidal behavior.
Instagram has been facing pressure on improving its content since the suicide case of 14-year-old Molly Russell. Ian Russell, the victim’s father, has come out and shared that Molly’s Instagram account was following self-harm accounts. The accounts were filled with photos related to depression.
In April, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport created a consultation series for the Online Harms White Paper. The UK government spearheaded consultations to identify the best measures to keep UK users safe online.
In the white paper, the government has acknowledged that online platforms can be used to affect one’s mental health and well-being. It lists that one of the problems are social media algorithms that do not showcase other points of view.
For example, if a user follows an account that promotes body-shaming, the social media platform’s algorithm will suggest the user follow similar accounts. This creates an unhealthy balance of the information received by the user.
The white paper also acknowledges the use of social media platforms to bully, harass, or intimidate other users. It also recognizes that these instances usually target public figures like celebrities.
Eating Disorder in Social Media
Neil says, ” I spent hours and hours going through this content and this material, and that then added to the more competitive side of anorexia.”
Neil shared that even if Instagram did not cause her anorexia, it exacerbated it. She shares that other user’s posts about their lowest weights with pictures that show skin and bones. Those posts triggered Neil’s anorexia encouraged her only to eat 20 calories per day.
After battling anorexia for three years, Neil continues to be on Instagram. In this case, she has now dedicated her account in spreading the positive message about eating. She highlights the positive journey she’s had in overcoming her eating disorder.
According to BBC, there’s an increase of more than 130% of teens suffering from eating disorders since 2011 based on National Health Services data.
Detox Teas and Promotions from Celebrities
One of the highly criticized uses of social media platforms are the ads of celebrities promoting products. Millions of followers consume content that is made to benefit businesses. One business that many claims to promote an unhealthy lifestyle is detox teas.
Detox teas are laxatives that help in one’s weight loss journey. Celebrities like the Kardashians, Amber Rose, Cardi B, and other influencers have been seen promoting detox teas, crediting the product for their bodies.
In 2018, the Kardashian-Jenner sisters were criticized for posting Instagram stories that are encouraging anorexia. In the story, Kim is showered with praise by sisters Khloe Kardashian and Kendall Jenner for being skinny.
In the short video, Jenner said “No, like I’m really concerned, I don’t think you’re eating. Like, you look so skinny.” However, the model continued to compliment Kardashian on how good she looks despite being concerned about her eating habits.
The content has upset many fans as it seems that the sisters were encouraging Kim to continue “not eating” because she “looks so skinny.”
Jameela Jamil, an actress, and body positivity advocate slammed celebrities who promote the detox teas and unhealthy weight loss options.