Instagram is clamping down on hashtags referencing eating disorders

‘We do not tolerate content that encourages eating disorders’, an Instagram spokesperson said

Sabrina Barr
Wednesday 12 December 2018 11:22 GMT
Eaters Collective
Eaters Collective

Instagram is making it harder to search for eating disorders on the site, in an effort to prevent the glamourisation of damaging mental health conditions.

In 2012, Instagram began making certain terms “unsearchable” on the site, including those seen to be promoting eating disorders.

While some hashtags on the unsearchable list would come up with no results when searched, others would give users the option to “learn more” when they clicked on them and provide them with the option of seeking out help if needs be.

Nonetheless, BBC Trending recently discovered that a number of terms, including hashtags that promote bulimia, hadn’t been added to the unsearchable list.

Additionally, when bulimia was typed into the Instagram search bar, alternative spellings of the eating disorder would appear that were created by Instagram users.

If others clicked on these misspelled hashtags, it could then lead them to potentially detrimental Instagram posts.

In October 2017, research conducted by the University of Exeter reported that an alarming amount of social media accounts were promoting eating disorders.

Furthermore, a previous study by researchers at the University of Adelaide found that women who used the hashtag “fitspiration” on Instagram were more likely to be at risk of developing an eating disorder.

Following on from the BBC investigation, Instagram has updated its existing policy to add a variety of terms to the unsearchable list, including the various alternative spellings for eating disorders that used to appear on the platform.

The photo-sharing site has stated that it is going to do all that it can to continue to support people who are at risk or suffering from mental health issues.

“With so many young people coming to Instagram to connect, support and discover, it is our priority to make sure they feel safe and do not see things that they shouldn’t,” a spokesperson said in a statement sent to The Independent.

“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.

“However, we recognise 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 Papyrus UK or the Samaritans.

“Experts we work with tell us that communication is key in order to create awareness, and that coming together for support and facilitating recovery is important.”

In February 2018, a study commissioned by Beat found that more than a third of UK adults are unable to correctly identify the symptoms of an eating disorder.

The 2,108 adults surveyed by YouGov were twice as likely to list weight loss or appearing thin as eating disorder symptoms, as opposed to having low self-esteem or developing an obsessive relationship with food.

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“This research has showed us that in the UK many people still do not know how to identify an eating disorder in its early stages,” explained Andrew Radford, Beat’s chief executive.

“These results are worrying because we know lack of awareness can stop sufferers getting the treatment they desperately need as soon as possible.”

If you’re suffering from an eating disorder and need support, you can contact the Beat helpline on 0808 801 0677, the youth line on 0808 801 0711 and the student line on 0808 801 0811.

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