TikTok dangerous for eating disorder susceptibility

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People with an interest in diets and fitness can end up in an eating disorder trap on the TikTok app in no time. They are then shown a stream of eating disorder videos – films in which eating disorders are (indirectly) promoted. Utrecht Data School, De Groene Amsterdammer and RTL News have concluded this on the basis of joint research.

Diets, fitness and slim women

In the study, Utrecht Data School had automated accounts watch videos on TikTok. The accounts were given 3 interests that are close to eating disorders: dieting, fitness and slim women. Because the accounts watched videos on these topics a little longer, TikTok’s algorithm picked up on the interests.

Eating Disorder Videos

At first glance, the videos that passed by did not seem directly harmful. It started with a few videos about diets, but in no time the accounts only saw videos about these topics. The diets became more and more extreme until the accounts began to see more and more eating disorder videos. An overwhelming, constant stream of extreme diets, eating disorder videos, and thin bodies followed. This whole process happened within half an hour from the first video. What the research mainly reveals is that TikTok’s algorithm shows more and more of the same and increasingly extreme videos quite quickly. According to the researchers, this can lead to further radicalization among users.

TikTok’s moderation policy

Eating disorder videos are officially prohibited on TikTok, but so-called recovery videos about recovering from an eating disorder are allowed. The descriptions of the malicious videos often state that it is a video about ‘recovery’, but that is not always correct. Moderators have a hard time determining whether a video is malicious. Not only do they get less than 15 seconds to rate a video, they also only get to see individual videos – which at first glance don’t necessarily have to look dangerous. TikTok has announced that it is looking for a solution.

Sources: Utrecht University and De Groene Amsterdammer

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