Last updated on November 3, 2019
Instagram is finally addressing the criticism it receives for posts that perpetuate extreme diet culture and negative self image. The social media app is infamous for allowing posts that are paid advertisements for diet supplements, including Flat Tummy Tea, whose products are not FDA approved but have often been endorsed by celebrities such as the Kardashians. Celebrity endorsements for diet or weight loss products are almost always criticized, as they can be extremely harmful to the health of anyone who sees their posts, but especially teenage girls who can be the most susceptible to body insecurity and eating disorders. Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney Kardashian, as well as their half-sister Kylie Jenner, all have daughters, and have been asked by the public through social media to consider how these posts might affect their kids as they grow into young women. That being said, it is not just girls who suffer when viewing these posts. People of all identities are vulnerable to body insecurity and should be treated delicately when it comes to those same issues.
Actress Jameela Jamil has been a major critic of the Kardashians and other celebrities who endorse weight loss products, calling them “billionaire adults preying on (teenage girls) insecurity and fear” in a tweet. She started a petition to “Stop Celebrities Promoting Toxic Diet Products on Social Media” and after collecting over 243,00 signatures, a change was made. Although celebrities won’t be forced to stop posting advertisements for weight loss products, there will be restrictions on who can view those posts. Instagram recently announced that a new update to the app will contain a mandatory feature blocking any users under 18 from seeing posts advertising diet products, weight loss products, or cosmetic surgery. In addition, posts that boast unrealistic and likely false weight loss statistics (“I lost 15 pounds in week!”) will be removed as a violation of community guidelines. Instagram has all users agree to these community guidelines when they make an account, saying that this code “helps us foster and protect this amazing community” (help.instagram.com).
Instagram’s public policy manager, Emma Collins, said in a statement, “we want Instagram to be a positive place for everyone that uses it and this policy is part of our ongoing work to reduce the pressure that people can sometimes feel as a result of social media” (Buzzfeed News).
It is hard to say if this policy is the “right” or “wrong” thing to do. While it is important to make sure that teenagers aren’t consuming media that is harmful to their health, it is also important that content is not being censored without consent, especially in this political and technological age where media censorship and targeted ads are very common. There is no obvious line that this new policy does or does not cross when it comes to media censorship, which is why it’s hard to make an all-encompassing rule. Perhaps a happy medium would be to let users decide if they want their account to have this new feature, or to alter the policy so that it only blocks posts that promote non-FDA approved products. This way, the health of young women is not being harmed, and users aren’t being forced to comply with all-encompassing rules that they may not agree with. Regardless, no Instagram policy is going to make every user happy. Consumers should think about what kinds of messages they are willing to receive on social media, and if this new policy is something that they support