By Maria Rago, PhD, ANAD President, and ANAD staff
The evidence about Facebook and Instagram’s harmful algorithms is growing. These platforms have been accused of exploiting young people’s psyches and vulnerability to developing eating disorders. From ANAD’s vantage point of skyrocketing demand for our eating disorder services, we think these companies seem to be causing a lot of harm for young, impressionable people. In fact we see it every day. We also believe these platforms have the equal capacity to improve our mental health.
Based on the news stories circulating, it appears that young people are being over-exposed to images of thinness, weight loss, and dieting. This is causing potential harm for millions of young people by steering them down the dangerous path toward disordered eating.
This is a serious concern because eating disorders are the second deadliest mental illness. Tragically, someone dies nearly every hour in the U.S. due to complications from an eating disorder.
Eating disorders thrive on secrecy, comparison, and competition, which is why social media is the perfect place for developing disordered thinking about food and weight. Young people are being flooded with imagery of thinness, unrealistic body standards, and content surrounding “quick fix” diets telling them they’re not worthy unless they look like the photos they see. Studies are showing that, even when young people are aware of images being heavily edited, they still feel the pressure to achieve.
While these algorithms and social media platforms can be problematic, we also know they’re so ingrained in our culture that they’re not going away. That’s why we at ANAD are interested in the use of social media as reinforcement for strong mental health and positive body image.
Here are ANAD’s tips for using social media to drive positivity:
- Think critically about the feelings you have while on social media. What is your inner voice telling you while you’re on social media? Write down those thoughts and feelings so you aren’t passively affected by them. Challenge them! Let your inner voice know that you don’t have to act on what it’s saying.
- Curate a healthy, body positive feed for yourself. This includes unfollowing any and all accounts that make you feel bad about yourself, and any accounts that are meant to “help” with dieting. Find new accounts by searching for hashtags like #bodyacceptance, #bodyconfidence, #bodypositive, #healthateverysize, etc. You’ll find more!
- Spread positivity. Once your feed is making you feel good, spread the love! The magic of social media is that you have an entire community at your fingertips. You have the power to do good by spreading love right from your home. It feels good to spread positivity.
- Report the accounts that you think are harmful. Facebook and Instagram rely on their algorithms and reporting systems to weed out negative content and accounts. By clicking the “report” button, you can flag accounts that you believe are harmful. The more you report something, the more likely it is to get taken down.
- Reach out to ANAD. At ANAD, we take a compassionate approach toward each individual’s disordered eating and body confidence experiences. Our free services include a Helpline, Peer Support Groups, and Recovery Mentorship programs. If you’ve done everything right on social media, but still aren’t feeling great, we’re here to help.