For almost as long as the internet has existed, so too have pro-eating disorder communities: blogs, groups, forums, and social media profiles where users share stories and photos related to disordered eating and body image. Some members simply want a judgment-free place to express their feelings about a complicated illness, but others promote more dangerous behavior, like encouraging extreme diets or dissuading people from getting help.
And as with other kinds of harmful content on the internet, platforms hosting pro-ED communities have long struggled with how to moderate them. In 2001, Yahoo removed more than 100 pro-ED sites from its servers, saying they violated its terms of service. A decade later, a HuffPost exposé about teenage girls creating “thinspiration” blogs on Tumblr prompted that site and others to ban explicitly pro-ED communities.
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New research published last month in the peer-reviewed journal New Media & Society highlights how pro-ED groups continue to evade attempts at moderation. The study also found that sites like Pinterest and Instagram sometimes suggest more pro-ED content to users via their recommendation algorithms. It isn’t an isolated problem—researchers have found that recommendation engines on platforms like YouTube also suggest problematic content, like conspiracy theories. But unlike fake news, users who share pro-eating disorder content could be suffering from a serious illness like anorexia or bulimia. Companies need to weigh not just the content itself, but also the effect that removing it might have on the vulnerable people who share it.
“It’s very, very difficult to tease out what would fit under the category of toxic, or pro-eating disorder content,” says Claire Mysko, the CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, which has worked with social media sites to help moderate pro-ED communities. “The people who are posting it and who are engaged in these communities are really struggling. You don’t...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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