In the age of smartphones and mobile devices, we are in a media-saturated world. While there is no singular cause of disordered eating and body satisfaction, there is increasing evidence that media contributes to eating disorder development and poor self-image.1
You risk encountering triggering or harmful content with every new scroll through your newsfeed. So what can we do as professionals, people in recovery, or just as individuals, do to find safety online?
Here we’ll take you through some good social media practices, platform-specific ways of protecting yourself, being a more critical viewer of what you see online, and tips for finding your happy place online.
Social media is here to stay, whether we like it or not. For many of us, it plays a vital role in our work and social lives. But unfortunately, while social media is full of funny, joyous, and informative content, it’s also where diet culture and pro-eating disorder content can pop up when you least expect it.
We’re not suggesting you should delete all social media and live in a cave. Instead, you can adjust your social media habits to make the online world safer.
Each social media platform is so different in the variety of content, layout, and methods of engaging content.
Serena Nagia, Marketing and Communications Manager at Project Heal, has some interesting thoughts on how these differences influence the archetypes/personalities of the major social medial platforms and how this may influence your engagement.
Twitter is the conversation starter that encourages open conversations and the sharing of opinions. However, you should treat Twitter with caution, as you won’t agree with all the views expressed, and there will undoubtedly be people who don’t agree with your point of view. Furthermore, as Twitter is such an open platform, it’s easy to access pro-anorexia, pro-diet culture, etc., content, so be considered when engaging with content.
Instagram is the cool aunt who is just about “with it” but has some improvements to make. Treat with a keen eye, a reserved finger, and a heavy block hand when needed. Instagram’s algorithm recognizes the time spent on a post or reel. If a triggering post causes an emotional response, your engagement is noticed, and you’ll see more of the same in an attempt to keep you on the platform longer. If you see something triggering, scroll past it as quickly as possible—don’t waste your time on content that causes an unpleasant emotional reaction.
Facebook is the sweet Grandma and the high school bully all rolled into one. They will make you cookies while saying mean things about you behind your back. So, be selective with your friends and careful with your privacy settings. Facebook has some great interesting videos, but stay out of the comments sections—no good can come from the comments section.
TikTok is a well-informed teenager that almost knows too much, and you should take everything they say with a grain of salt. You can take validation from empowering content but skip any triggering content quickly. This stops the algorithm from recognizing you’re emotionally invested and shows you more of the same.
LinkedIn is the CEO, a powerful information source, and a great learning tool. That’s not to say there won’t be some triggering content, but as a site for professional networking, it’s not as prevalent as with other social media platforms. So, share your professional wins, but share your disappointments, too, to stop toxic positivity.
Here are some useful tips for blocking, filtering, and reporting harmful or triggering content or users on social media platforms.2 Just be aware that privacy and safety settings often change, so it’s wise to check your settings every so often.
Twitter has filters for hiding sensitive content, specific content and triggers, people, and the option to report content.
Filter sensitive content:
Filter specific content:
Twitter gives you the option to both mute and block individuals:
Muting an individual keeps you from seeing content from that profile, and Blocking them will also prevent them from interacting with your profile.
Facebook has fewer options for filtering sensitive content, instead using a system of reviewing user reports on posts and asking the original poster to remove the harmful post.
When you report anything to Facebook, it’s sent to a team to review and determine if it goes against Community Standards.
This process can take weeks and is not guaranteed to have the outcome you hoped for. Therefore, you may have more success in avoiding triggering content by blocking or restricting individuals who regularly post problematic content.
With Instagram, you can filter comments, specific words or phrases, and your feed, as well as restrict and block individuals and report content.
Block comments from certain individuals: This will hide comments from specific individuals from your post.
Hide generally offensive comments: This will hide comments on Instagram content that the platform deems offensive or inappropriate. In the “Comments” sections of “Settings,” toggle on “Hide Offensive Comments.”
Filter specific words or phrases: This will hide all comments that feature any words or phrases you don’t want to see. In “Comments,” use the toggle to turn on “Manual Filter” and enter any words or phrases you don’t want to see. You can also select “Filter Most Reported Words,” which hides comments containing words most commonly reported on your posts.
Mute or block an individual: Muting stops you from seeing posts from a profile you follow without blocking them. Blocking a profile prevents a person from seeing your posts or interacting with you and vice versa.
Restrict an individual: Restricting an account will protect you from unwanted interaction without needing to block or unfollow the person. The individual will not know they are restricted but will be unable to see when you’re online or when you have read their messages. Click the menu button in the corner of their profile and select “Restrict.”
Wherever we look, messages tell us how we should look, which can make us feel less comfortable in our own skin, if we don’t meet this ideal image. These messages will not go away, but we can protect ourselves from these narrow definitions of beauty by becoming critical media viewers.
Laurie Yurchick, Executive Coordinator at the National Alliance for Eating Disorders, shared her perspective as someone in recovery, with the primary message “stay away from specifics”.
How often have you been scrolling online and come across “before and after” weight loss pictures, stories about how long it took for a celebrity to lose their baby weight, or some other insidious form of diet culture, masquerading as click-bait articles?
Should there be more accountability from the media? Should content creators be more consistent with trigger warnings? Or should we, as social media users, have more control over the content and advertising we see online?
Both Serena Nangia and Ruth Elliot, Director of Clinical Services at MEDA, agree that social media can be a source of good. Social media is powerful, sparking civil and human rights movements—it’s a great way to spread an important message worldwide and elevate marginalized groups, allowing their voices to be heard.
Social media is also a great place to find your tribe. Eating disorder recovery can often feel like an isolated place, but social media allows you to connect with people with similar circumstances all over the world. Through social media, you can find a place in a community that is accepting and supportive, where you can share your stories and help advocate for others.
The world of social media doesn’t always feel like a safe place for people in recovery, but there are things you can do to be the positive change you’d like to see: