Social media has been a way to influence users in multiple ways. Social media has it all, from inspirational quotes to motivation captions. However, social media can also promote further awareness of pro-eating disorders. It is then that social media is no longer influential, but now a toxic place for people who struggle with this mindset. Two online articles further explain how social media impacts eating disorders. The first one, “How Pro-Eating Disorder Posts Evade Filters on Social Media,” written by Louise Matsakis, emphasizes that even though social media companies ban hashtags that relate to eating disorders, similar hashtags continue to appear and replace the prohibited hashtag. The second article, “Thin, white, female: How people document eating disorder recovery on Instagram,” written by Andrea LaMarre, argues that hashtags related to eating disorders have been found to be associated with healthy eating. Here, I then argue that social media brings more focus on eating disorders through the means of hashtags.
Social media companies have been trying to limit content related to eating disorders, but users have found ways around this. For example, social media companies have recently banned certain hashtags because they were intertwined with posts that had images corresponding to eating disorders. However, social media companies attempt to ban these hashtags was soon derailed when users would misspell the original hashtag. Matsakis states that “[a] separate 2016 study from the Georgia Institute of Technology found that pro-ED users simply began to intentionally misspell or alter terms: “#thinspiration” became “#thynspiration,” “#thinspire,” or “#thinspirational.” Basically, a study confirmed that users with eating disorders would purposely misspell hashtags to replace the hashtags that were banned. This was not what social media companies were going for and thus ruined the purpose of banning the hashtags in the first place. In continuation, when users would search for these types of hashtags related to eating disorders, social media companies have made it to where two things happen. Matsakis continues saying that “[w]hen users search for tags related to eating disorders, such as #bulimia, the sites either block results entirely or surface a pop-up message asking if they want to seek help.” Basically, when users searched for these banned hashtags, a message would appear to give them the option of seeking help. This is a step towards the right direction but while Matsakis is focusing much of her attention of how users misspell the original hashtag in order for their hashtag to be allowed on social media, she overlooks the deeper problem that misspelling hashtags would not be happening if social media companies did not ban the hashtag in the first place. Banning hashtags brings more attention to eating disorders instead of individuals who struggle with this mindset. Even though I think awareness is much needed and extremely beneficial for this certain cause, banning hashtags brings a different kind of awareness. This kind of awareness brings more attention to certain hashtags instead of the individuals who are struggling with eating disorders. While it is important for social networks to be aware of these hashtags, it is also important for them to realize banning these hashtags may bring more attention to the hashtags and not enough attention to the individuals who suffer from eating disorders. And it is then that social media brings more attention to eating disorders through the means of hashtags.
Moreover, it was discovered that posts with hashtags associated with healthy eating also had hashtags associated with eating disorders. Although social media companies had good intentions of banning hashtags related to eating disorders, their plan was not well thought out. To prove this, a recent study examined roughly 1,056 posts that were related to eating disorders. LaMarre gives the following results, “[o]ur analysis revealed how easily health can become entangled with particular ways of eating. Often, hashtags like “#EatingDisorderRecovery” were used alongside “#CleanEating” and “#HealthyFood.” In other words, it was found how easy it is for health to be associated with eating disorders. Hashtags with healthy eating also had hashtags mixed in with eating disorders. On the other hand, Matsakis takes it one step further and recognizes that social media companies have a difficult task in finding hashtags that promote eating disorders. Matsakis states, “The New Media & Society study underscores how difficult it can be for tech companies to find problematic content and to decide what should and shouldn’t be removed.” In short, whether that hashtag is directly or indirectly related to eating disorders, it is difficult to discern what should be allowed or banned. And while social media companies have good intentions, banning a few hashtags will not solve the issue of eating disorders being intertwined with hashtags. Although I agree with both LaMarre and Matsakis, I still insist that social media is an issue because instead of putting focus and attention on individuals with eating disorders, we are sidetracked by the hashtags that surround eating disorders. Both LaMarre and Matakis provide ample evidence on instances where the hashtag is the main focus, but they both overlook the individuals that are using these hashtags.
Therefore, this is what social media companies need to do instead. Social media companies need to realize it is important not to ban all hashtags that are related to healthy eating because as LaMarre observes, “Some users did engage with Instagram… particularly when it comes to health…[t]hey used hashtags in unexpected ways, for instance tagging a photo of a dessert “#HealthyEating.” They commented on others’ posts, offering reassurance and community t [to] others.” In short, users would use a hashtag on a post that contained an image of something we normally would not consider healthy (i.e. a piece of dessert). Others would then comment on this post with words of encouragement for the user who posted this photo. This is important because if social media companies banned this hashtag, users would not be able to find a community who share common ground in what healthy eating looks like. LaMarre’s suggestion is similar to a point that Matsakis makes. Matsakis insists that social media companies should not ban users from their platforms for merely posting content related to eating disorders. She states, “platforms [should] refrain from cancelling a person’s entire account, and instead consider deleting individual posts. That way, they’re not abruptly cut off from other users who may be supportive.” Here, Matsakis is saying that social media companies should not ban users because they will then no longer be part of a community that will help them. Social media companies should instead delete the individual posts that are associated with eating disorders. In conclusion, then, the world of social media has put much focus on eating disorders and more specifically, hashtags have been the main source of influence on eating disorders. Social media companies need to stop banning these types of hashtags as it may hinder users to connect with those of a similar mindset. Overall, I am still a firm believer that social media puts much emphasis on eating disorders. We should focus as much time on the individuals who struggle with eating disorders as we do on the hashtags that surround eating disorders.