In a previous blog post, we touched on the possible effects that social media may have on self-image and eating habits. As this topic gains more attention, let’s take a closer look.
Are social media platforms legally liable for eating disorders?
Research does indicate that higher social media use among teens increases the risk of developing an eating disorder. An Australian study, published in late 2019 in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, looked at nearly 1,000 middle-school students and their use of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Tumblr. Having more social media accounts was linked to higher scores for thoughts and behaviors associated with eating disorders.
Does that make social media companies liable for the mental health of their young customers? A new lawsuit suggests that it might.
In the first lawsuit of its kind, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is being sued for allegedly contributing to a pre-teen girls’ eating disorder and self-harm. The lawsuit cites the Facebook Papers, a collection of internal Meta research documents leaked in 2021. These documents show that the company was aware that Instagram was linked to mental health concerns, including body-image issues, among users.
The Seattle-based Social Media Victims Law Center filed the lawsuit in June 2022 on behalf of Alexis Spence, who created her first Instagram account at age 11. According to the complaint, Instagram’s artificial intelligence algorithm prompted her to view content that promoted anorexia and self-harm, while encouraging an addiction to using the app. Now 19 years old, Spence has been hospitalized for depression, anxiety, and anorexia, the lawsuit states.
Limiting teen use of social media may help, but can be challenging.
On top of new lawsuits, many lawmakers and parents have called for stricter regulation of social media companies. However, it is crucial for families of teens to take their own steps to mitigate the effects of social media and body image.
Here are some ways that families might reduce teen social media use and its negative effects:
- Stay informed about the effects of social media on children, the types of platforms available, and what media behaviors are appropriate for different children at different ages.
- Stay engaged with your child, and encourage conversations about the media platforms he or she uses and the content he or she consumes. Discuss healthy eating and fitness habits with your child, and encourage appropriate diet and exercise for your whole household.
- Develop a family or household media use plan. For example, you might establish “no electronics” rules for mealtimes, or prohibit screen time for an hour before bed, or decide that bedrooms will be media-free.
- Participate as a family in healthy activities, such as outdoor exercise, reading, and face-to-face conversation.
- Share any family media rules with grandparents, caregivers, babysitters, and others to help the household stay consistent.
- Partner with other parents in your child’s school or community to become advocates for healthier habits and appropriate media behaviors.
Eating disorders are complex health concerns that affect each person differently and can be difficult to treat. That’s why it’s important for behavioral health providers to use tools that ensure they have all the information they need to make the best treatment decisions.