TikTok has launched an investigation and banned some search phrases after the Guardian discovered dangerous pro-anorexia content material was nonetheless simply searchable regardless of measures taken by the social media firm to ban the promoting of weight-loss merchandise.
The video app – one of the standard on the planet with greater than 800 million customers, virtually half of whom are between the ages of 16 and 24 – has imposed new restrictions on weight-loss adverts after criticism for selling harmful diets.
However dangerous accounts that promote doubtlessly life-threatening consuming problems had been nonetheless straightforward to search out. Whereas the corporate had blocked some hashtags, placing the identical phrases right into a seek for profiles introduced up dozens of accounts selling consuming problems.
These looking for content material by way of hashtags may also get round restrictions through the use of slight misspellings or variants on widespread phrases.
After being offered with the findings, TikTok launched an investigation and stated it had taken motion to ban dangerous phrases throughout all search verticals, together with when looking for customers.
One account confirmed messages from a woman saying she needed tips about shedding a number of weight, in a wholesome or unhealthy method. One other account stated: “This is a warning if you don’t like stuff about starving leave please.”
One other consumer requested individuals to comply with for “low calorie” protected meals whenever you don’t need to purge, a type of an consuming dysfunction that entails self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives or drugs.
TikTok stated it had banned six accounts flagged to them for violating the group pointers on posting content material that promotes consuming habits which are more likely to trigger well being issues.
Dr Jon Goldin, vice-chair of the kid and adolescent school on the Royal Faculty of Psychiatrists, described the findings as “deeply disturbing”. He urged social media corporations to do extra and stated regulators wanted robust powers to sanction inaction.
Ysabel Gerrard, a lecturer in digital media and society on the College of Sheffield, stated: “It takes little more than 30 seconds to find a pro-eating disorder account on TikTok and, once a user is following the right people, their For You page will quickly be flooded with content from similar users. This is because TikTok is essentially designed to show you what it thinks you want to see.”
TikTok’s For You web page is a feed of movies – not all the time from individuals you comply with – really useful by an algorithm primarily based in your historical past. Folks have reported being served up accounts that repeatedly put up about consuming problems, weight reduction or diets.
Gerrard stated that because the first wave of press protection about pro-eating dysfunction content material on TikTok, the corporate had taken steps to deal with the difficulty by banning adverts for fasting apps and weight-loss dietary supplements. “I applaud the company for making it. However, there are some more things that TikTok urgently needs to do to make the platform even safer,” she stated. She added that limiting the “results for hashtag searches is not enough, and hashtag searches might not even be the way users find new content anyway.”
At current, TikTok doesn’t ship assets to individuals within the UK looking for pro-eating dysfunction phrases. “It simply says ‘no results found’ or directs you to the platform’s community guidelines – their rulebook for user behaviour,” Gerrard stated.
She acknowledged that eradicating content material was tough. “In particular, TikTok would need to be careful when limiting search results for usernames because some accounts might be pro-recovery, and there’s plenty of evidence to tell us how helpful social media can be for people with eating disorders.”
Tom Quinn, director of exterior affairs for Beat, the UK’s consuming dysfunction charity, stated: “So-called ‘pro-ana’ or ‘pro-mia’ content can be very attractive to people affected by eating disorders and has the potential to be devastating.”
Quinn stated they’d shared their issues with TikTok, and the corporate had been receptive to listening to from individuals with expertise of consuming problems as a way to make their platform safer. “We welcome the steps they have taken against advertising weight-loss products, and we urge them to take further action against harmful content,” he stated.
The Conservative MP, Damian Collins, the previous chair of a parliamentary committee charged with investigating social platforms, stated it was not clear howTikTok’s algorithm labored. “It’s amazing how fast TikTok has grown … I would like for them tackle this [pro eating disorder content] and explain what policies they will be put in place to more effectively spot and not promote harmful content.”
A spokesperson for TikTok stated: “As soon as this issue was brought to our attention, we took action banning the accounts and removing the content that violated those guidelines, as well as banning particular search terms. As content changes, we continue to work with expert partners, update our technology and review our processes to ensure we can respond to emerging and new harmful activities.”