Instagram’s weight-centric algorithm is especially harmful to teen girls’ health and self-image, documents show

For more than a year, Facebook has known that Instagram, which it acquired in 2012, can make eating disorders and suicidal ideation worse in some teenage girls. Internal studies recently shared by whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former product manager at Facebook, revealed that 13.5 percent of teen girls say that Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse and 17 percent say the app intensifies eating disorders, Business Insider reports. And there’s evidence that Instagram actually promotes eating disorder content. Staff members for Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal registered an Instagram account as a 13-year-old girl and followed some dieting and pro-eating disorder accounts. Before long, Instagram’s algorithm began almost exclusively recommending “extreme dieting accounts” with names like “I have to be thin,” “Eternally starved,” and “I want to be perfect,” CNN reports. Illustrating that it wasn’t an anomaly, CNN tried the same experiment and had the same outcome. Chelsea Kronengold, communications lead for the National Eating Disorders Association, told CNN that while social media sites may not cause eating disorders, “we know [social media use is] definitely a strong risk factor in these situations.”

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