On Tuesday, Instagram announced that they were introducing a number of strategies to support users who may be suffering from eating disorders and negative body image.
This will include the promotion of expert-backed resources when users search for content related to eating disorders. They will also expand their work with experts to help inform policies and collaborate with community leaders to “help them create and share positive, inspiring body image content,” according to a statement on their blog.
Instagram has already made certain changes with regard to potentially triggering content. Content about self-harm is blurred, and users are shown a general list of resources if they search for it.
When users now search for terms related to eating-disorders on the app, text appears reading:
‘When it comes to sensitive topics about body image, we want to support our community. We’ve gathered some resources that may be helpful.’
Users are then offered a blue ‘Get Resources’ button, or they can tap through to see the results of their search.
Tapping the Get Resources button leads you to a browser page with three suggestions, including ‘talk to a friend’, which suggests users call or message a trusted contact. Instagram has said that in the coming weeks, they will add the ability to directly message or call a friend from the resource page.
Next is ‘talk to a helpline volunteer’. Instagram has partnered with specific organisations in certain countries, including The Butterfly Foundation in Australia. Clicking through this sends you to five options, all direct links to The Butterfly Foundation, including calling, texting, emailing, or chatting online with a trained helper. There is also a link to all Australian helplines for general support, including Lifeline, beyondblue, headspace, and Kids Helpline.
The final options is ‘find ways to support yourself’. Clicking through sends users to a page with three tips, including ‘Resist the Pressure to Judge Yourself’, ‘Listen To Your Body’, and ‘Take Care of Yourself’.
The resources will also be surfaced if someone tries sharing the content.
Instagram has been criticised in the past for the prevalence of eating disorder-related content on the app.
A 2019 article by the BBC on the subject interviewed a number of experts, as well as people who had struggled with eating disorders. Dr Ysabel Gerrard, a lecturer in digital media and society at the University at Sheffield said, “I think there is still content on Instagram that should not be there,” despite the banning of certain hashtags by the platform in 2012.
One young woman told the publication that Instagram played a role in fuelling her illness. She said, “I’d just get all these suggestions for weight loss hashtags…it just made it easier and in a way…tempting to dip my foot back into the eating disorder world.”
The changes mirror other initiatives the platform has taken with regard to mental health.
In 2019, the platform began hiding likes for their Australian users. While users can click on their own posts to see how many people have liked them, they can no longer see how many likes other users received.
The platform described the decision as a movement to take the competition away from posting.
In Instagram’s statement about the new resources, they stated that “we’re hosting feedback sessions with community leaders and experts globally to learn more about emerging issues in the eating disorders space, and new approaches for offering support.”
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