By Serena Davis
There are approximately 30 million Americans with diagnosed eating disorders, and studies show that social media is a contributor — something social media companies don’t seem to care much about. The edited bodies, faces and skin we see daily create unattainable and often unhealthy beauty standards, and a lot of people, young children especially, are negatively impacted by the inability to meet those unrealistic expectations. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to present the best version of yourself online, but at what point does that become harmful — and who is responsible for those harms?
Since the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections, social media platforms have been under heavy scrutiny for what they allow on their platforms. Being separate from the government, they can make their own rules for the most part on what kind of content is acceptable and non-harmful for the public. Because of this, I think social media companies should take more responsibility for providing a space where reality is warped in a way that causes harm to society and young children’s developing body images.
It’s not as though social media companies aren’t aware of the connection between social media and eating disorders. There is a multitude of reliable studies that conclude a correlation between internet use and eating disorders and body image issues. There are even studies of other studies, like the one I looked at from The Adolescent Research Review, that looked at data from 67 qualitative, correlational and experimental studies. That review by over 100 collegiate professors and faculty from all over the country and abroad concluded that “The use of Internet, and particularly appearance-focused social media, is associated with heightened body image and eating concerns.”
A piece of legislation (Assembly Bill 613) was proposed in California by Cristina Garcia, a California State Assemblymember, to require social media platforms to disclose if an image was altered when posted by a company or influencer to make money. It would also make known what in the photo was altered. The bill seems like a logical way to allow people and companies to post whatever content they’d like while also protecting consumers’ sense of reality. Unsurprisingly, the bill has seen push-back by the considerable lobbying efforts of technology companies and has been moved to next year for consideration.
While I would personally love if companies made decisions based on a desire for a better society, I know most of their decisions are motivated by profit. In this case, they are working against their own interest. Millennials and Gen Z audiences have been vocal and pushing back about their distaste for unrealistic standards set by social media. These demographics are the present and future social media users and listening to what these audiences want will only increase users.
If the social media companies don’t care enough about the millions of Americans with eating disorders and body image issues to protect consumers from unrealistic and attainable standards, then hopefully they will care about the loss of future growth. Considering that social media companies earn revenue by providing consumers to engage with companies, it is in their best interests to start listening to their audiences about what they want and caring about the harm they cause their audiences.