Eating disorder charity warns TikTok and Instagram against advertising  body altering apps

Yorkshire-based charity Seed have warned the impact body-altering apps could have on the mental health and wellbeing of young and impressionable audiences

Charities have warned against the unrealistic portrayal of bodies due to body-altering apps, and the impact of this on people experiencing eating disorders (Picture: Shutterstock)

Social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram have been warned of the negative impact advertising body-altering apps could have on their users.

Gemma Oaten, patron and charity manager at Seed, an eating disorder support service, said the social media platforms have a “duty of care” to make sure they are "not just reacting but are conscious of the content that they're delivering".

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Adverts show social media users how they can use apps that alter images of their body, such as making their waists slimmer.

Platforms with a predominantly younger audience - such as TikTok and Instagram - that largely have a younger audience - have been urged by Seed to take action against advertising such apps.

The Yorkshire-based charity said it has seen a 68% increase in 10 to 19-year-olds seeking help in 2020 compared to the year before, with a 56% increase overall for all age groups.

Oaten said: "Unfortunately, so many people are developing eating disorders or are struggling more than they ever did in a world where they're under a pressure cooker, they're under microscope," she told the PA news agency.

"Eating disorders are a mental health illness that is purely based around the need for control, and at the moment we live in a world where there is none."

She said people struggling with their mental health and eating disorders are fearful of lockdown easing as "all they're used to is seeing images on a phone, laptop screen or an app".

Oaten, who is also a former Emmerdale actress, has spoken openly about her own battle with anorexia - she is now warning platforms that they need to understand the impact of what is being shared online, and the impact this can have on “impressionable people, especially our youngsters who use these platforms constantly.”

Earlier this month, TikTok announced it has created a safety council to advise it on content moderation policies and practices in Europe.

TikTok's head of product policy in Europe, Julie de Bailliencourt, said the council would be a vital tool to help the social media platform craft safety features around education and how to start conversations on sensitive topics.

"For example, young people who are coming out of an eating disorder," Ms de Bailliencourt told PA.

"We've had lots of conversations on this already on what may intuitively feel like the right thing to do when you don't know about this topic or when you don't have a lived experience but may actually end up being unintentionally harmful or not the right thing to do.

"So when we speak with experts we want them to think around corners and tell us 'hey, what you've got there is great but there's one thing you haven't quite thought through'."

Last year, Instagram announced new rules for tighter restrictions on some posts related to diet products and cosmetic surgery. The site also introduced private ‘likes’ as opposed to a publicly displayed like-counts.

In November 2019, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said that the move was being made in an effort to improve the emotional and mental health of Instagram users.

He said: "It means we’re going to put a 15-year-old kid’s interests before a public speaker’s interest.

"When we look at the world of public content, we’re going to put people in that world before organisations and corporations."