NewsWorldInstagram promoted pages glorifying eating disorders on teen accounts

Instagram promoted pages glorifying eating disorders on teen accounts


New York (CNN Business) – “I have to be slim”, “eternally hungry”, “I want to be perfect”. These are the names of the accounts that the Instagram algorithms promoted to an account registered as belonging to a 13-year-old girl who expressed interest in losing weight and dieting.

The proof that Instagram is not only failing to crack down on accounts that promote extreme diets and eating disorders, but is actively promoting those accounts, comes when Instagram and its parent company Facebook face a intense scrutiny on the impact they have on the mental health of young people.

Instagram acknowledged to CNN this weekend that those accounts violated its rules against promoting extreme diets and should not have been allowed on the platform.

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The extreme diet accounts were promoted to an Instagram account created by Senator Richard Blumenthal’s staff. The Connecticut senator’s team registered an account as a 13-year-old girl and proceeded to follow some accounts about diet and eating disorders (the latter are supposed to be banned by Instagram). Soon, the Instagram algorithm began to recommend almost exclusively that the young teenager’s account should follow increasingly extreme diet accounts, Senator Blumenthal told CNN.

Blumenthal’s office shared with CNN a list of accounts that the Instagram algorithm had recommended. After CNN sent a sample of this list of five accounts to Instagram for comment, the company removed them, saying they all violated its policies against promoting eating disorders.

“We do not allow content that promotes or encourages eating disorders and we remove accounts shared with us for violating these rules,” a spokesperson for Facebook, the parent company of Instagram, told CNN. “We use technology and reports from our community to find and remove this content as quickly as possible, and we are always working to improve. We will continue to follow expert advice from academics and mental health organizations, such as the National Eating Disorder Association, to achieve the difficult balance between allowing people to share their mental health experiences while protecting them from potentially harmful content. “

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In a talk with CNN on Monday, Blumenthal said: “This experience shows very graphically how the claims of [Facebook] to protect children or delete accounts that may be dangerous to them are absolute nonsense. “

Blumenthal’s experiment is not an anomaly, and it may come as little surprise to regular Instagram users who are familiar with how the platform’s algorithm recommends accounts that it has determined a user might be interested in.

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The “toxic” effects of Facebook

This complaint comes after reports from The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) of internal Facebook documents showing that the company is aware of the “toxic” effects that its platforms, especially Instagram, can have on young people. Much of those reports, and subsequent comments from Facebook, have focused on the negative impacts of social comparison with celebrities and popular figures on the app – an issue Facebook says affects the whole of society and is not unique to its users. Applications. However, according to the WSJ report, Facebook researchers acknowledged that “social comparison is worse on Instagram” than on other platforms because it focuses on a person’s entire body and lifestyle.

Blumenthal’s experiment goes one step further and shows how quickly Instagram’s algorithm promotes harmful content to young users.

CNN opened an account last week using the same methodology as the Senator’s office, also following some extreme accounts of diets and eating disorders. On Sunday, Instagram promoted accounts with names like “Sweet Skinny,” “Prettily Skinny” and “Wanna Be Skinny” on the CNN experimental account that was also registered as belonging to a 13-year-old girl. CNN has reached out to Instagram to ask if these accounts also violate its policies.

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The Danger of Eating Disorder Content on Instagram

Viewing content from these extreme diet accounts, which included, for example, images of extremely slim bodies and information about a user’s “current weight” versus their “target weight,” can act as validation for users already predisposed to unhealthy behaviors, experts say.

“It’s called confirmation bias, where people tend to look for information that confirms what they already believe to be true,” he said. Pamela Keel, professor of psychology at Florida State University, who has studied how the use of Instagram can contribute to eating disorders. While confirmation bias is often discussed in the context of other social media issues, such as vaccine misinformation, it could also affect “someone who is already thinking they need to be thin, or thinner, and is looking for other people to agree with them, that this is something important, “he said.

“We constantly seek validation that we are right, even if that validation is really, really harmful to our personal health,” Keel added, also asking that Instagram avoid promoting such content.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Facebook researchers who have studied its effects on young users for the past three years found that Instagram can harm the mental health and body image of young users, especially among teenagers. An internal document quoted by the newspaper said that for adolescent girls who had recently experienced body image problems, the app exacerbated those feelings in one in three of them.

At a Senate hearing last week, Facebook’s global chief security officer, Antigone Davis, criticized the Journal’s reports, calling the Facebook documents it cited “a non-explosive investigation.” He added that the company has found that “more teenage girls find Instagram useful.” Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee who leaked the documents to the Journal and lawmakers, testifies before the same Senate committee.

Senator Richard Blumenthal questioned Facebook’s global security chief Antigone Davis during a hearing on the company’s impact on young users last week. (Credit: Tom Brenner-Pool / Getty Images)

Instagram has also rejected claims about its role in perpetuating harmful behaviors by saying that social comparison is a widespread problem and that potentially problematic images are available elsewhere as well. In fact, “pro-anorexia” online communities have been around for years, before the rise of Instagram. However, Instagram’s wide reach among young women and girls means that such content posted on its platform can be especially dangerous, according to Keel.

“The dominance of Instagram among the age group already most at risk for eating disorders is a [problema]”Keel said.” You have a vicious cycle: You have a group that is at high risk for these problems and shows this artificial intelligence that this is what gets their attention, and then that artificial intelligence says, ‘Let me give you more. of this’ … It’s just a perfect storm. “

Chelsea Kronengold, communications lead for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), added that while Instagram and other social media sites may not cause eating disorders and other body image problems, “we know that it is definitely a factor. significant risk in these situations. “

Following the magazine’s report last month, Instagram detailed several new features that it plans to implement to address mental health issues (some of which were developed in partnership with NEDA), including “nudges” that could encourage users to change their viewing habits if they have recently viewed potentially problematic content. The company has said it wants to avoid potentially triggering content while allowing users recovering from eating disorders to discuss their experiences – a potentially difficult balance to strike, experts say.

“There is no long-term benefit to killing members of your largest user base, because eating disorders are incredibly dangerous, there is no way that is what [Instagram] wants, “Keel said.” My only request would be to just be more transparent. Being tracking this, trying to do things to minimize risk to your site and just be more transparent about what you’re trying to do. “

Where to seek help

Most countries have official helplines for those with eating disorders, and there are also associations that deal with these problems.

National Eating Disorders Association:
Phone: 1-800-931-2237. They also have a confidential chat to help.
You can also call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255 in Spanish; 1-888-628-9454 in English.

Association for the Fight Against Bulimia and Anorexia (ALUBA) is a non-profit association that has been a leader in the treatment of eating disorders for more than 25 years. It has a toll-free line (0-800-22-25822) and can also be contacted on the web.

The Colombian Institute of Family Welfare provides information about the disease. It has a free line that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (018000 91 80 80). In addition, the Colombian government enabled line 192 that provides assistance and guidance for professionals.


The Mexican Institute of Social Security has a toll-free line (800 623 2323), from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. from Monday to Friday, and from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
In addition, they have attention through a chat, an email and social networks.

In the UK the Beat organization has phone and chat services available on your website.


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