Instagram Fights Back Against Eating Disorders

Credit: One News Page Staff- Published on December 14, 2018
by 👨‍💻 Adam Yardley

Instagram, one of the biggest social networks on the planet, has this week reportedly taken steps to curb the rise in eating disorder culture online – by adding a number of commonly used hashtags to their ‘unsearchable’ list. The network, owned by Facebook, has taken steps to make sure that posts which promote eating disorders such as anorexia are restricted from public discovery, according to BBC News.

The news comes, reportedly, following a BBC investigation into how certain Instagram users were able to work around various filters and measures otherwise set up to prevent certain search terms from bringing up results. Certain hashtags and search terms are already filtered out to this extent for various reasons – and while certain search terms, according to the source, are still searchable, the vast majority of those related to glorifying eating disorders appear to have been silenced. In place of results, searchers are either presented with a blank space or a pop-up offering them help with their browsing.

“We do not tolerate content that encourages eating disorders and we use powerful tools and technologies – including in-app reporting and machine learning – to help identify and remove it,” an official statement advised. “However, we recognize this is a complex issue and we want people struggling with their mental health to be able to access support on Instagram when and where they need it.”

“We, therefore, go beyond simply removing content and hashtags and take a holistic approach by offering people looking at or posting certain content the option to access tips and support, talk to a friend, or reach out directly (to groups who can support them).”

‘Extreme fasting’ and other trends on social media have led to worrying movements where harmful disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are being glorified as viable lifestyle choices. As many users of services such as Instagram are young people, it is understandable that those in control of the service wish to offer a support network to help those who may be searching for potentially harmful terms and ideas online. While it may not be possible to police each and every hashtag or term related to said ideologies online, offering a digital helping hand may be a worthwhile first step to supporting young and impressionable minds.

Following their investigation, the BBC reports that there were still ways to discover harmful content – meaning that there may be more work to be done yet.

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