Despite taking measures to remove these harmful videos, clips can still be found on the video sharing platform
TikTok has launched an investigation after it was discovered that pro-eating disorder content is still easy to find on the video sharing platform, despite recent measures to remove it.
In September, the app announced that it would no longer display ads that promote fasting apps and weight loss supplements, while other weight loss, diet, or fitness ads would only be targeted to over 18s.
However, as exposed by a new Guardian investigation, videos promoting eating disorders are still rife on TikTok, with users getting around restrictions by using slight misspellings or variants on common terms.
Although TikTok blocked certain pro-eating disorder hashtags, putting the same words into a profile search still yielded harmful videos – the app has said it’s now taken measures to stop this happening. Moderators have also banned six accounts which were flagged for promoting dangerous eating habits.
Vice-chair of @RcpsychCAP, @DrJonGoldin, described the findings as “deeply disturbing”. He urged social media companies to do more and said regulators needed strong powers to sanction inaction. https://t.co/eEaTm1SaVA— Royal College of Psychiatrists (@rcpsych) December 7, 2020
In screenshots published by The Guardian, one user can be seen asking for “ways to loose (sic) a lot of weight in three days, healthy or unhealthy I need it right now”, while another said they “made this account secretly because I want to lose weight but I don’t want to use my main account”.
Ysabel Gerrard, a lecturer in digital media and society at the University of Sheffield, told the newspaper: “It takes little more than 30 seconds to find a pro-eating disorder account on TikTok and, once a user is following the right people, their For You page will quickly be flooded with content from similar users. This is because TikTok is essentially designed to show you what it thinks you want to see.”
TikTok’s algorithmically-powered ‘For You’ page shows you clips from people you don’t necessarily follow, meaning its young target audience (69 per cent of whom are aged between 13 and 24) can easily be exposed to harmful content without even searching for it.
Speaking to Dazed in September, 23-year-old Seherish, who used to suffer with an eating disorder, said that “having (weight loss ads) as part of your viewing without your choice is alarming”, adding: “In a 10-minute timescale, I’d see two to three of them – and if they weren’t ads, they were TikTok user videos promoting weight loss.”
Tom Quinn, the director of external affairs at eating disorder charity Beat, previously told Dazed: “Weight loss products can be very attractive to people affected by eating disorders. We know that the spread of these damaging weight loss claims, particularly the spike in fasting adverts shown on social media platforms, has caused great distress and risked triggering eating disorder behaviours in many of those suffering.”
In light of the new revelations, a TikTok spokesperson told The Guardian: “As soon as this issue was brought to our attention, we took action banning the accounts and removing the content that violated those guidelines, as well as banning particular search terms. As content changes, we continue to work with expert partners, update our technology and review our processes to ensure we can respond to emerging and new harmful activities.”