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  • Samira Farah

Is Tiktok The New Home for Pro-Ana Content?

Trigger Warning
The following article contains discussion of topics relating to disordered eating.
Please do not keep scrolling in an attempt to self-trigger.

As TikTok increasingly gains recognition - worldwide and across many age groups- it has its flaws. Though Tiktok has both good aspects and bad, the inferior elements prove to be dangerous for younger audiences.

The history of pro-anorexia (the advertising of behaviours relating to the eating disorder, Anorexia Nervosa) is very complex. It’s wide variety of websites, blogs, forums, and social media spaces have been a fixture of the web more or less since its start. However, “pro-ana” was more prominent on Tumblr in the early 2000s. It was essentially people struggling with eating disorders glorifying their lifestyles online. Sharing tips, looking for competitors willing to top their bad habits with worse, and overall promoting disordered behaviours openly and regularly. It became so overwhelming that finding, correcting, and deleting pro-anorexic content became a vital facet for social media companies to focus on. In 2001, Yahoo reported removing approximately 113 websites from its servers in an attempt to lessen the amount of pro-ana content. Similarly in more recent times, during 2019, Pinterest began removing pro-ana by familiarizing its algorithm to identify content that advertises self-harm.

As TikTok has a large viewer population of children, it can be really harmful to them to see such explicit content. Though some may not seem bad to the naked eye, eating disorder recovery videos, for example, can really be triggering too. TikTok claims they don’t allow “content that promotes eating habits that are likely to cause health issues”. However, in an attempt to combat the issue, they had banned content using the hashtags #proana and #anorexia which had over 2.1m views during the summer of 2020. Now when viewers try to search those hashtags, they are redirected to a “need help?” support page- a feature Instagram had also implemented in 2016. Yet Tiktok users have been able to bypass the new feature by using common misspellings of popular search terms and/or writing it out without a hashtag to get the same results.

While TikTok continues to be flooded with pro-anorexic content, more people are realizing the catastrophic impacts it has on users. What further measures should TikTok take to support its users? Have they done enough to help lessen the pro-ana content being shared on their platforms? I believe that just as Pinterest has done with its algorithm, TikTok should do the same. They should work on fixing the loopholes that allow users to continue searching and putting out pro-ana content. Until there is little to almost no pro- anorexic content on TikTok, their actions to combat it will never be enough because such content will always be out on the web in one way or another. Nonetheless, I think social media companies should do everything they can to limit it.


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