Technology

Eating Disorders and Social Media Prove Difficult to Untangle

But young people have formed online communities where they discuss eating disorders and swap tips for the best ways to lose weight and look skinny. Using creative hashtags and abbreviations to get around filters, they share threads of emaciated models on Twitter as inspiration, create YouTube videos compiling low-calorie diets, and form group chats on Discord and Snapchat to share how much they weigh and encourage others to fast.

Influencers in fashion, beauty and fitness have all been accused of promoting eating disorders. Experts say that fitness influencers in particular can often serve as a funnel to draw young people into extreme online eating disorder communities.

YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter have policies prohibiting content that encourages eating disorders. The companies should improve their algorithms that can surface such content, Ms. Kronengold said.

“It becomes an issue, especially when people are coming across this content who can be harmed by it or don’t want to see it,” she said.

Like many other popular YouTube creators, Eugenia Cooney, 27, makes videos that share her favorite fashion and makeup items with her more than two million followers. But for years, her viewers have not focused on the topics of Ms. Cooney’s videos. Instead, they flood her comments with concerns about her health.

Although she spoke in 2019 about her struggles with an eating disorder in interviews with other YouTubers, Ms. Cooney rarely addresses her audience’s concerns. While some viewers flock to her social media profiles on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and the streaming service Twitch to beg her to seek treatment, others have accused her of using her platform to promote eating disorders to young people.

They say her videos are examples of “body checking,” a habitual behavior of reviewing the appearance of one’s body that is often associated with eating disorders. Over 53,000 people signed a petition in January asking social media companies to remove her content.

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