TikTok Is Finally Cracking Down on Disordered Eating Content

The video-sharing app says it will start to remove videos that promote overexercise and short-term fasting

A hand holding a phone showing the TikTok logo
TikTok announced a deluge of policy updates today, including a crackdown on content that promotes disordered eating.

Four months after its first congressional hearing on platform safety and privacy concerns, TikTok announced a deluge of policy updates today, including a crackdown on content that promotes disordered eating.

In December 2021, The Wall Street Journal published a deep dive into how the popular video-sharing app overwhelms teenagers with eating disorder content. TikTok’s much-vaunted video algorithm is exceptionally good at keeping users tuned in with content similar to videos they’ve already watched. Each user’s For You page is tailored to their interests, which the app learns through user interaction. From there, it recommends videos based on comments, likes, etc., yielding a mix of content so addicting that you may wind up convincing yourself you’ve got a rare mental disorder.

That’s not an exaggeration. According to the WSJ‘s investigation in December, TikTok’s algorithm served 12 automated accounts the newspaper created tens of thousands of weight-loss videos within a few weeks of being on the app, along with other dangerous content related to disordered eating.

Other videos showed emaciated girls with protruding bones, a “corpse bride diet,” an invitation to a private “Christmas-themed competition” to lose as much weight as possible before the holiday and a shaming for those who give up on getting thin: “You do realise giving up after a week isn’t going to get you anywhere, right?…You’re disgusting, it’s really embarrassing.”

Given the recent concerns over TikTok’s algorithm and the content it promotes to its predominately young users, the app began testing changes to its algorithm to drive users away from harmful content. Now, the app says it’s broadening its approach when it comes to dealing with content related to disordered eating. In the new policy update, TikTok says it already removes content promoting eating disorders, and will now begin to remove videos that encourage overexercise and short-term fasting.

“We’re making this change, in consultation with eating disorders experts, researchers, and physicians, as we understand that people can struggle with unhealthy eating patterns and behavior without having an eating disorder diagnosis,” reads the new policy statement. “Our aim is to acknowledge more symptoms, such as overexercise or short-term fasting, that are frequently under-recognized signs of a potential problem. This is an incredibly nuanced area that’s difficult to consistently get right, and we’re working to train our teams to remain alert to a broader scope of content.”

Next to the prevalence of disordered eating videos on its platform, TikTok says it will also implement a stricter strategy towards harmful hoaxes that spread on the app, along with hateful ideologies, specifically in regard to the LGBTQ+ community.

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