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Instagram urged to crack down on eating disorder images

February 12, 2019

Social media platform advised to follow self-harm picture ban with focus on anorexia

 Images promoting potentially life-threatening eating disorders are thriving on Instagram and need to be cracked down on in the same way as graphic self-harm images, leading charities and experts have said.


The social media giant’s focus on removing graphic images of self-harm did not go far enough, they said, and young people also faced being confronted with pro-anorexia images due to little policing on the site.


The Guardian has discovered thousands of hashtags and accounts promoting anorexia, including diaries of weight loss, alarming pictures and comments on goal weights.


These accounts often include a comment saying: “Please don’t report, just block,” to circumvent the website’s approach, which requires people to report content that they find worrying.


The director of external affairs for the eating disorder charity Beat said content promoting anorexia and bulimia was prevalent online. “So-called pro-ana and pro-mia content is widespread on social media and can be very harmful for people suffering from an eating disorder,” Tom Quinn said. “People will not develop an eating disorder by being exposed to images that glamorise eating disorders, but research shows that such content helps perpetuate the illnesses for people who are already suffering.


“We welcome Instagram’s recent increases in its security measures to protect users from content that promotes eating disorders. However, social media platforms should do more to ensure such content cannot be posted in the same way as Instagram is now cracking down on images of self-harm.”


Dasha Nicholls, the chair of the eating disorders faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said some people on sites such as Instagram were using the platform to “actively promote disordered eating and inspire others to behave in that way, particularly around restriction and fasting”.


She said: “We have to take down graphic images of eating disorders … There is good evidence those most vulnerable are likely to access those sorts of sites. There is a social obligation and whether there is also an industry obligation is an important point that is coming out at the moment as well.”


Ursula Philpot, a dietitian at the British Dietetic Association, said she fully supported a crackdown on pro-anorexia content on Instagram.


The calls come after Instagramannounced that it would ban all graphic self-harm images as part of a series of changes made in response to the death of the British teenager Molly Russell. The photo-sharing platform made the decision after being met with a tide of public anger over the suicide of the 14-year-old girl, whose Instagram account contained distressing material about depression a