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:
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.
 Fairplay, Designing for Disorder Report at 13.