How Instagram fed two teens’ eating disorders

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He weighed 85 pounds. She was admitted to the hospital. His heart stopped twice. The doctors thought she would not survive.

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But he did. And now she is dedicating her life to helping other girls from New South Wales, Australia. Her first warning to parents and children about the dangers of Instagram is where, Thomas says, her near-death journey began.

On the app Thomas started following “clean eating” influencers. She was an athlete looking for the fittest body she could build. And the bodies she idolized flowed down her timeline, every single day, with every “like” and comment that tempted her to emulate the body types she saw.


“I just wanted to like and be loved by them,” Thomas said.

“I wanted to taste it.”

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But the opposite happened. She started hating herself.

One commenter reacted to the photos posted by Thomas, writing that he had a fat belly. At some point he stopped eating. She said that her parents did everything possible to get her to eat. Child welfare officers were called on him as they resorted to force-feeding him.

Thomas recalled, “It got to the level where I remember sitting down and my dad holding my jaw open and my mom putting food in my mouth because I refused to eat.” Was.”

‘There is no quick fix for this thing’

Thomas’s struggle is just one example of Instagram’s potentially “toxic” effect on teenage girls, as highlighted Tuesday in Congressional testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Hogen.
“I believe Facebook products harm children, promote division and undermine our democracy,” said Haugen, 37, a former Facebook product manager who works on civil integrity issues at the company. Told the Senate subcommittee.
Facebook’s own internal research, cited in one of Haugen’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commissionshowed “13.5% of teen girls on Instagram say the platform makes ‘suicide and self-injury’ thoughts worse” and 17% say the platform makes “eating issues” such as anorexia worse.

Its research also claimed that Facebook’s platform “makes body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teenage girls.” (Instagram is owned by Facebook.)

“The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram secure, but they won’t make the necessary changes because they put their astronomical advantage to the public,” Haugen said during his opening remarks. “Congress needs action. They will not solve this crisis without your help.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a 1,300-word statement on the platform designed to defend the company against Hogen’s allegations that the tech giant’s research on its impact on children was being misrepresented.

“We care deeply about issues such as safety, wellbeing and mental health,” Zuckerberg wrote.

He said, “Many claims make no sense. If we want to ignore research, why would we create an industry-leading research program to understand these important issues in the first place?”

What we know about Facebook whistleblowers

In a statement, Facebook disputed the interpretation of the research and insisted that the percentage is too low. The company has also said that it welcomes the regulation.

Still, people familiar with the workings of the tech world say it will take much longer to save teens.

“Their business model puts kids into this kind of engagement,” said Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology. “And that’s what I’m really worried about…that there’s no quick fix to this thing. It’s the intrinsic nature of the product.”

According to experts, the content of excessive dieting accounts can act as validation for users who are already prone to unhealthy behaviour.

Pamela Keel, director of the Eating Behavior Research Clinic at Florida State University, said posting photos on Instagram has raised concerns and dissatisfaction about one’s appearance, along with weight and size.

“It’s actually one of the strongest risk factors for developing an eating disorder,” she said.

According to Keel, Instagram’s wide reach among young women and girls means that such content posted on its platform can be particularly dangerous.

‘You must die’

In the video of his family, Thomas is seen screaming and crying when his parents demand his food.

“I can’t do it,” he cried.

“Come on open your mouth and just put this in and swallow,” she is told in another video.

“When I was admitted to the hospital, the doctor said to me, ‘We don’t understand why you’re here. You must be dead,'” Thomas recalled. “Actually in the hospital… my heart failed twice.”

Thomas admitted that she was “very addicted” to Instagram.

Facebook's revelations are shocking.  But nothing will change until Congress takes action

Eating disorder survivor Anastasia Vlasova, who lives in New York and attends the New York University Gallatin, said she had a similar experience.

“I was definitely addicted to Instagram,” she said.

Vlasova was tempted by images of women with chiseled bodies and perfect abs. She said that the more curvy bodies she saw, the worse she felt about herself.

“I was just bombarded with all these messages that you have to exercise every single day, or you have to do these types of exercises or you have to go on these types of diets and avoid these foods,” she said.

Vlasova, now 18, called it an “unhealthy passion” that plagued many young people of her age.

Instagram not only failed to crack down on accounts promoting excessive dieting and eating disorders, but by actively promoting those accounts, according to young women, put their lives at risk.

“We shouldn’t stay in hospital beds or eat through our nose or gastric tubes or let our parents say goodbye to us or hand over our parenting rights because your platform is encouraging us to starve. Have to eat yourself or clean,” Thomas said.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorders Association (in the US) has phone, text, and chat services. Website and Beat (in the UK) have phone and chat services available. Website.

Granthshala’s Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.


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