Social media giants must do more to safeguard against harmful diet content

Senator Annie Hoey image
27 February 2023
  • Calls for Seanad Debate on community resources

Marking eating disorder awareness week, Labour Senator and member of the Oireachtas Health Committee Annie Hoey has demanded action from social media giants against harmful diet content.

Senator Hoey said the rise in people seeking treatment for eating disorders, particularly post pandemic, demands change.

Senator Hoey said:

“There is a woeful lack of supports in place in Ireland for people suffering from eating disorders. This week is Eating Disorder Awareness week and I would urge Government to make a commitment to increasing the number of specialists in the community to help those who need it most. I am demanding that a debate be held in the Seanad this week on the lack of resources specialists need in the community.

“Right now, there are no national specialist public inpatient beds for eating disorders. There are three beds in St. Vincent’s University Hospital but they are only available in that specific HSE catchment area. The days of postcode lotteries should be behind us but, alas, inequality in access remains.

“This means people in the rest of the country must be admitted for general or psychiatric beds or must go to the UK for treatment, either privately or through our State system. I don’t understand how we are still in the position that we are sending people abroad for treatment that they should be able to get here. People and their families are needlessly suffering and people are dying.

“As well as the State, global platforms must do more to stem the dissemination of harmful content that may trigger people.

“Research published by the CCPC in December 2022 showed the impact that influencers have on their followers, finding that 66% of consumers who follow influencers purchase a product as a result of an influencer mentioning it.

“There’s no doubt that their followers will also follow diets, restrict certain foods or take up particular exercises based on the recommendations of influencers – just look at the popularity of the “75 Hard” challenge that is taking over the channels of TikTok influencers. Social media giants need to do more to tackle potential harmful messages like this online.

“I have written to the large social media networks asking them to consider proactive interventions on their sites to provide information for eating disorders on posts connected with diet culture, similar to the manner in which Covid-19 information was shared during the pandemic. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this measure and others with them in the Oireachtas Health Committee.

“Diet culture on social media is something that needs to be tackled. These influencers live in our pockets on our phones, and if they are not transparent about the sometimes harmful eating and exercise patterns some promote, it can have a detrimental impact on people vulnerable to experiencing an eating disorder. What is most pervasive about this type of information is that it is promoted directly by people who users admire, on a platform they trust.

“Of course, this is not a panacea. The unfortunate reality is that treatment for people suffering from eating disorders is simply not receiving the funding it so desperately needs.

“GPs and social workers continue to report that they can’t provide the integrated community-based supports that people need. I have raised this time and again at the Health Committee. It’s not good enough that we have a situation where people who can afford to pay for private care get the help while others have to get lucky on the post code lottery.

“Diet culture on social media is something that needs to be tackled. This Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I would urge all influencers to be more conscious of posting triggering content, and reiterate my call to social media giants to take the lead in protecting those who are vulnerable.”

Stay up to date

Receive our latest updates in your inbox.
By subscribing you agree to receive emails about our campaigns, policies, appeals and opportunities to get involved. Privacy Policy

Follow us

Connect with us on social media