The Story Behind TikTok and Pro-Anorexia Content

TikTok, which started in 2016, is a social media platform that has surged in popularity over the last few years among teens and young adults. The social media app allows you to easily record, edit, and post short videos that you can then share among friends and across the entire platform.

TikTok has recently come under criticism for allowing pro-anorexia content to be distributed across its platform. This is not suggesting TikTok is directly supporting eating disorder behaviors, however the content is not being filtered by the social media platform. Potentially triggering messages promoting eating disorder behaviors can be viewed on the app at any time. These messages can be dangerous for those recovering from an eating disorder

Recently, several users have reported seeing videos that encourage disordered eating behavior, dangerous exercise advice, and even body shaming on TikTok’s “For You Page.” These types of messages can be especially dangerous when you consider the age group that is primarily using the platform.

Why Is This Content Potentially Harmful?

TikTok is home to over 1 billion users worldwide. Estimates show that nearly 60% of the app’s users in the United States are between the ages of 16 and 25. These statistics directly coincide with teens and young adults who are most susceptible to developing anorexia and other eating disorders.

These images and videos can be triggering to those who have suffered from anorexia. And can be the driving force to ultimately create the development of an eating disorder or disordered eating and exercise behaviors.

One of the main questions regarding this issue becomes, “should TikTok be held responsible for this type of content existing on its platform?” Ultimately, both TikTok and its users should be aware of the harm they may be causing. TikTok is under the most scrutiny as other platforms are utilizing filters to reduce damaging content while TikTok has yet to address the issue.

Facebook and Instagram, for example, have dealt with these sorts of issues in the past. Both platforms developed filters to slow the dispersion of pro-eating disorder content. Aside from these filters, users on Instagram and Facebook also have more control over the content served on their profile.

Frequent users of TikTok notice that the “For You” page does a poor job of filtering out content misaligned with your interests. This differs greatly from pages on Instagram and Facebook, where a user has full control over the content that is brought into their feed. Ultimately, vulnerable people are finding it hard to avoid pro-anorexia content when trying to enjoy the TikTok app.

What Can You Do?

For parents of young children and teenagers, you can try to limit the time your child ultimately spends on social media apps. There are several free apps available that allow parents to monitor the amount of time their children are spending on social media. It may also be helpful to consider monitoring your own social media use on these apps, just so your child doesn’t feel like they are being treated unfairly.

Also, parents can take measures to ensure their child or teenager has an appropriate body image philosophy before they engage in any social media platform. Don’t assume that your child is immune to social influences that they may witness on some of these platforms.

If you are concerned that some pro-anorexia content may affect you directly, stay away from potentially harmful media at all costs. We suggest you use a platform where you know this type of content will not creep into your feed.

If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one who may be experiencing an eating disorder or have a poor self-body image, feel free to contact our admissions team. We are available to help discuss the next steps and best practices to ensure that they stay safe.