New research shows that one third of the network of pro-eating disorder accounts on Instagram is under the age of 18, and these accounts reportedly have over half a million followers


Washington (April 29, 2022) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Representative Lori Trahan (MA-03) and Kathy Castor (FL-14), today demanded answers from Meta CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, regarding a new study on the proliferation of pro-eating disorder content on Instagram. The report provides new evidence that Meta targets children and teens based on their activity on Instagram and uses that information to algorithmically push content that can encourage dangerous eating behavior. Researchers found that, due to Instagram’s algorithmic practices, pro-eating-disorder accounts gained young followers and spread unhealthy content, even when those pro-eating-disorder accounts were inactive. This research identified children as young as 9 and 10 potentially trapped in bubbles of eating disorder content. These accounts posted disturbing visual content that celebrated “thinspiration” or “bonespiration,” terms used to promote eating disorders, including imagery of extremely underweight people as a dangerous body type to follow.


“Meta has an obligation to prioritize the wellbeing of its young users, and company representatives have stated before Congress that Meta is committed to the health and safety of the children and teens who use its platforms. Unfortunately, new research indicates that Meta is amplifying dangerous and unhealthy eating disorder content to users ages 9 to 18,” write the lawmakers in their letter to Zuckerberg. “This report is particularly concerning given Meta’s record of failure to protect young people. Independent reports have previously documented Meta’s failure to stop ads for tobacco, alcohol, and eating disorders from targeting teens.”


A copy of the letter can be found HERE.


In their letter, the lawmakers request responses to the following questions:


  1. Will Meta commit to taking all necessary steps to stop the amplification of pro-eating disorder content, influencers, and accounts to children and teens? Please describe in the detail the policy changes Meta will make in response to the increasing evidence showing the prevalence of this content among young users.
  2. Will Meta commit to supporting federal legislation to ban all targeted advertising to children, covering at a minimum users under the age of 13? If not, why not?
  3. The algorithms that push pro-eating-disorder content to Meta’s users rely on those users’ personal data. Will Meta commit to supporting federal legislation to update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act to require online platforms to provide notice and obtain consent in order to collect data about teen users? If not, why not?
  4. According to recent research, Meta makes $0.5 million a year directly from the underage network of pro-eating-disorder accounts, and $62 million in revenue from the users—including children and teens—who follow underage pro-eating-disorder accounts.[1] Please provide detailed information on the following:
    1. Meta’s total annual advertising revenue derived from pro-eating disorder accounts;
    2. Meta’s annual advertising revenue derived from pro-eating disorder accounts managed by under-age (under 18 years old) users; and  
    3. Meta’s annual advertising revenue derived from under-age followers of pro-eating disorder accounts.
  5. Given Meta’s continued failure to protect children and teens on its platforms, will Meta commit to abandoning its plans to launch a version of Instagram for kids? If not, why not?


The lawmakers previously demanded answers from Mark Zuckerberg regarding Facebook’s announcement that the company is “exploring” plans to develop a version of Instagram for children. In May, after the company failed to make meaningful commitments to protect kids online, the lawmakers released a statement calling on Facebook to abandon its plans for the children’s platform.


Additionally, last June, Senator Markey and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) introduced the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act, legislation that would update online data privacy rules – including the prohibition of collecting personal information from 13- to 15-years olds without the user’s consent - for the 21st century and ensure both children and teenagers are protected online.



[1] Fairplay, Designing for Disorder Report at 13.