The Internet is a beautiful thing. It’s an expansive repository of information on any subject. A massive emporium of anything one could want, from Apple seeds to Zebra pelts (Yes, you can buy zebra pelts on the Internet). And it’s a means of social connection.
This Buzzfeed article outlines the current state of attempts by social media companies to thwart pro-eating disorder (i.e. pro-ana and pro-mia) groups, blogs, and photos. I first heard about pro-ana back in the late 90’s when every middle schooler with an Internet connection had a Geocities page. I saw pro-ana sites again late into college, when a friend of mine was doing research on eating disorders for a psychology class and read a few posts on a pro-ana forum aloud to me in horror. Now it’s 2016, and people are still forming support communities based on a collection of deadly behaviors and maladaptive personality traits. Companies have been trying to shut down these communities with mediocre results like it’s 1999.
The latest effort by some is to strategically place recovery-oriented advertising and messages on pro-eating disorder media. I’m not entirely certain if there is evidence to back up this practice, though it’s probably not harmful. The site visitor is given a prompt to call the National Eating Disorders Association or talk with a trained volunteer online.
Here’s part of what it’s like to have an eating disorder: loneliness, feeling disconnected from others, self-loathing, shame, isolation, sadness, anger, and more self-loathing, shame, and loneliness. The well-known perk of pro-ana sites is the same as any other online support group: When you enter, you’ve found your people.
Social media can’t fully control what people post, try as they might. Continuing to try is the responsible thing to do. Social media is more complication than cause of the development and continuation eating disorder symptoms.What is especially problematic is how variable in real life support for individuals with eating disorders can be in the US, as well as a need for trained health professionals, and of course underfunding for researching causes and treatment.