Social Media and Eating Disorders: The Truth Behind the Algorithm

New York Post this week wrote an article about how Instagram uses algorithms to draw in similar or related search topics for its users, essentially flooding them with more posts, pictures and ads. While they may seem harmlessly annoying, for those with an eating disorder or those with a higher propensity for and eating disorder, these algorithms are downright dangerous.   With 9% of the U.S. population, or 28.8 million Americans, having an eating disorder in their lifetime (ANAD.org) it is entirely reckless to add fuel to this disease by adding negative influences on social media like this.

Adolescents on social media platforms like Instagram for example, are saturated with  thinspo pictures, proana or pro bulimia information.  It is essentially preying on the psychological and emotional vulnerabilities of young females.  Heavily triggering the social and cultural risk factors known to perpetuate eating disorder in adolescents and/or trapping individuals already succumbed to an eating disorder further into their illness.

While Instagram insists that is it working closing with National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) to build policies to make Instagram a safe-supportive place for youth they are clearly not doing enough to ensure they are living up to their claims.  NEDA reports on their website, “In a study on social media, nearly all girls (95%) say they see the onslaught of negative beauty critiques on social media posts, comments, photos, and videos, and a majority see them at least once a week (72%) and wish social media were a space that empowered body positivity (62%)” and “Another study found social media use is linked to self-objectification, and using social media for merely 30 minutes a day can change the way you view your own body” (NEDA.org)

While this information is jarring to hear, it is not surprising that this is happening. With the whistle blower from Facebook, latest news reports and the congressional meetings addressing social media’s negative influence this is a hot topic of discussion.  Consumers are tired of being taken advantage of and misguided with negative influences and false information.  We have become less tolerant but also feel helpless about what to do in these situations.  Consumers want solutions, they want protections.

To protect yourself or a loved one from becoming prey to be flooded by negative social media message form algorithms make sure:

  • Be alert—know what you are or our loved one are search for and what platforms you are using.
  • Be a critical consumer-stay away from or reduce the usage of platforms that use algorithms, lack policies to protect youth from eating disorder influence material check out the web browser Opera it has features that allow you to block ads and protects you against algorithms
  • Discuss– have open dialogue about what is a healthy role model, positive influences, and safe platforms
  • Advocate for safer social media practices