Campaign: Safe Online Spaces

We’re campaigning to make online spaces safe; to protect the mental health of people affected by eating disorders and negative body image, and to call for trust and transparency from advertisers and content creators.

We are calling for the UK Government to amend the laws and put governance in place to ensure that targeted advertising content is effectively monitored, and modified photos are labelled.

We can’t drive these changes without your help.

Trust and Transparency: Creating Safe Online Spaces

In today’s world, life is often lived online. Did you know, there are currently 53 million social media users in the UK alone (1). That’s nearly 82% of the entire population! And whilst these platforms provide us with a plethora of ways to connect and share like never before, they unfortunately also expose us to increasingly problematic content such as unrealistic body image ideals and targeted advertising promoting diet culture.

In a recent inquiry 61% of adults and 66% of children reported feeling negative about their body image most of the time (2) and with 87% of children aged 12-15 participating in social media use (1), a figure which rises to 91% for those aged 16-24 (3), here’s our concern…

  • Research indicates that both consumption of digital media and social networking is related to body image concerns, appearance comparisons and disordered eating (4 & 5), all recognised risk factors for eating disorders (6).

  • And typically, on average, eating disorders develop between the ages of 13-17 (7) Though recent evidence suggests children as young as five years old are experiencing both body dissatisfaction and eating disorders (8).

Not to mention…

  • There are already currently 1.25 million people in the UK with an eating disorder (9) and, they have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder (10). 

When combined with mounting evidence that images and adverts which promote weight loss, drastic changes in body shape and even weight management, all perpetuate diet culture which negatively impacts how people feel about their own appearance and consequently how they behave towards their own body (8). It means that not only do we have a space which puts people at risk, but potentially sabotages those battling their disorder or puts those in a place of recovery at risk of relapse.

So, who’s responsible?

Well, the content in question is both generated through advertising and by users.  And since social media companies aren’t putting in efficient measures to moderate this content, we call upon the UK Government to do so.

Trust - Our Call to Advertisers

In support of the petition to Stop Targeting Eating Disorders, we want to start and build trust that advertisers are doing the right thing. The petition asks that these platforms ban content or advertising of products which are deemed potentially harmful to those affected by eating disorders and has already garnered public support with over 1,500 signatures collected.

The Safe Online Spaces campaign calls on the UK Government to:

Put governance in place to stop advertisers targeting people affected by eating disorders and any associated eating disorder related search terms with products such as body/face altering software, calorie tracking apps and supplements to support weight loss (for example but not limited to.)

Whilst we acknowledge this can be a fine line when advertising fitness products, those which advertise specific weight loss behaviours and idealise certain body types can be particularly harmful to those at risk, therefore clear government policy is needed to ensure more specific compliance by online platforms.   

Pinterest has recently paved the way and banned all advertisements with weight loss related language and imagery (11), creating a supportive online environment for its users, particularly those directly impacted by eating disorders. And whilst Instagram publicly apologised (12) for promoting diet and weight loss content to users with eating disorders, no resultant action appears to have followed. Similarly, Facebook (which owns Instagram), Twitter and TikTok have made comment when approached that they intend to reduce harmful content on their platforms, but there is nothing currently holding them accountable to making these changes.

Transparency - Our Asks for User-Generated Content

 In support of the petition to Change Social Media Laws to State When Content is Filtered or Edited, we want transparency around images shared online. We want to create an environment where people understand the treatment that images have received to look a certain way and to stop perpetuating unrealistic body image ideals. The #HonestyAboutEditing campaign has gained significant momentum since its launch only a matter of months ago, including parliamentary support from Dean Russell, Member of Parliament for Watford.

With over 1,400 signatures already collected, a number which is sure to rise with recent media attention.

The Safe Online Spaces campaign calls on the UK Government to:

Amend laws for social media platforms whereby if body related content is posted and a filter or editing app is used, it must be labelled as altered so the user is aware.

A law passed in Norway just last month has done exactly this and when it comes into effect, it will mean that both advertisers and social media influencers can no longer post modified photos without stating that they have altered the original image (13). The measure is hoped to make a significant contribution to both children and young people’s self-esteem, in a time when so much of life is lived online.

Help us to drive change

Here are some ways to get involved: 

1. Sign the petitions
We need as many signatures as possible to make change happen!

Petition 1: Stop Targeting Eating Disorders

Petition 2: Change Social Media Laws to State When Content is Filtered or Edited

2. Share the petitions
Ask your friends and family to sign and share too. On social media, tag your posts with #AdsCanTrigger #HonestyAboutEditing and #EatingDisorders

3. Help us gather examples of inappropriately targeted ads
Screenshot them and send as jpg or png files to mail@anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk. We will add these to our own evidence and package them up to submit with our petition. Please include a note explaining what site (web/social media) you were using at the time, the date and time you saw the ad. 

4. Use this simple tool to Write to your MP.
Tell them why you believe advertisers must stop targeting people with eating disorders, or how you believe the use of filters and editing has a negative impact on mental health.  Write in your own words but as a guide, you could include:

  • examples of the ads you have seen online that appear to be targeted towards you 
  • examples of heavily edited or filtered body images
  • why these are problematic for you
  • why this content is inappropriate or even dangerous for someone suffering or recovering from an eating disorder
  • why you believe the Government should step in to ensure this content is regulated

5. Follow us on social media for campaign updates.
We're on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

Also follow the hashtag #HonestyAboutEditing 

References

  1. Statista Research Department. (2021). Social media usage in the United Kingdom (UK) - statistics & facts. https://www.statista.com/topics/3236/social-media-usage-in-the-uk/
  2. House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee. (2021). Changing the perfect picture: an inquiry into body image (No. 6). Retrieved from https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/5357/documents/53751/default/
  3. Royal Society for Public Health. (2017). #StatusOfMind Social media and young people's mental health and wellbeing. https://www.rsph.org.uk/static/uploaded/d125b27c-0b62-41c5-a2c0155a8887cd01.pdf
  4. Holland, G., & Tiggemann, M. (2016). A systematic review of the impact of the use of social networking sites on body image and disordered eating outcomes. Body Image, 17, 100-110. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1740144516300912
  5. Mabe AG, Forney KJ, Keel PK. (2014) Do you "like" my photo? Int J Eat Disord, 47(5):516-23. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.22254
  6. National Eating Disorders. (n.d) Risk Factors. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/risk-factors
  7. National Health Service. (2021). Overview - Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/feelings-symptoms-behaviours/behaviours/eating-disorders/overview/
  8. The Centre for Appearance Research. (2021). Written evidence submitted (MISS0045). Retrieved from https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/7943/pdf/
  9. Beat Eating Disorders. (n.d). Statistics for Journalists. Retrieved from https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/media-centre/eating-disorder-statistics 
  10. Arcelus J, Mitchell AJ, Wales J. et al. (2011) "Mortality Rates in Patients with Anorexia Nervosa and Other Eating Disorders: A Meta Analysis of 36 Studies." Arch Gen Psychiatry, 68: 724-31. https://doi.org/10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.74
  11. The Guardian. (2021) Bye bye BMI: Pinterest bans weight loss ads in first for major social networks. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/jul/02/bye-bye-bmi-pinterest-bans-weight-loss-ads-in-first-for-major-social-networks
  12. Hosie, R. (2021). Instagram has apologized for promoting weight loss content to people with eating disorders. Retrieved from https://www.insider.com/instagram-apologizes-for-promoting-diet-posts-people-with-eating-disorders-2021-4
  13. Grant, K. (2021). Influencers react to Norway photo edit law: ‘Welcome honesty’ or a ‘shortcut’? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-57721080