Tech

Instagram cracks down on posts touting 'miraculous' weight loss

Key Points
  • Facebook-owned Instagram is restricting or removing posts that promote weight loss and cosmetic procedures.
  • The move comes as social media companies crack down on health misinformation across the board.
Adam Mosseri, Facebook
Beck Diefenbach | Reuters

Instagram took measures on Wednesday to cut down on posts that promote weight loss and cosmetic procedures.

The Facebook-owned company says it will now take action to restrict or remove these posts. Instagram said it would pay special attention to products that claim to be "miraculous" remedies for shedding pounds or spurring other cosmetic changes.

Instagram's Emma Collins said in an emailed statement that the company wants to be a "positive place for everyone that uses it." And that the move is part of ongoing work to "reduce the pressure that people can feel sometimes as a result of social media."

On Instagram and other social media sites, health misinformation is rampant. Companies have only recently begun to take steps to clamp down on this kind of content, notably with Pinterest removing anti-vaccination ads and other content in February. Instagram followed suit in May by announcing plans to remove hashtags that return anti-vaccination information.

The problem of health misinformation has become so pervasive on social media that Harvard's T.H. Chan school of public health recently published a report geared at public health professionals, with advice on how they can push back on influencers, celebrities and bots spreading false content about people's health.

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"The people who are spreading the information are always a few steps ahead," says Vish Viswanath, a director at the school wrote in the report, adding that the social media companies are often in a "reactive" mode rather than getting ahead of the problem.

In recent years, Instagram has become a go-to marketplace for sellers of health products. A big part of the problem is that products that make so-called "wellness" claims are largely unregulated, and are operating in a huge industry. The market for dietary supplements alone is estimated to be worth $40 billion per year.

One of the advocates behind this change is the British actress Jameela Jamil, who has more than 2 million followers on Instagram.

"After a bunch of shouting, screaming, and petitioning... we have managed to get the attention of the people at the top, and they have heard us and want to protect us," Jamil said via an Instagram post announcing the step. Jamil founded an organization called "i weigh," which advocates for inclusivity on social media.

Facebook-owned Instagram also said that it would roll out additional functionality for people to report a post within the app if it violates these policies.

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