Apps provide eating disorder ‘petri dish’

Social media apps such as Instagram and TikTok have been called the 'perfect petri dish' for eating disorders.

Social media apps such as Instagram and TikTok have been called the 'perfect petri dish' for eating disorders. Photo: AAP

Social media has been labelled “the perfect petri dish” for eating disorders, with support groups demanding companies clean up their platforms.

A federal parliamentary inquiry into social media and online safety has heard from the Butterfly Foundation and Eating Disorders Families Australia about dangers posed by popular apps.

“Social media is the perfect petri dish for the proliferation of eating disorders,” Eating Disorders Families Australia director David Quilty told MPs on Thursday.

“Social media and search engine providers must be required to clean up this harmful content and stop using their algorithms to push it to users.”

Mr Quilty wanted the Online Safety Act to require platforms to remove harmful and pro-eating disorder content.

“I’m not saying that they should completely remove all content that might relate to body image or to issues around food, but it’s not hard to see what the most harmful content is,” he said.

“Let me assure you, from a personal perspective, that when you have a loved one who’s in hospital, who’s self-harmed seriously, and then they tell you that what triggered it was Instagram, you realise how potentially harmful these sites are.”

TikTok ‘behind the game’

Mr Quilty also singled out TikTok as being “behind the game”.

“This is where, with photoshopping and the use of other apps, you’re able to portray what are completely unrealistic images of young, prepubescent and post-pubescent girls in particular,” Mr Quilty said.

The Butterfly Foundation wanted to see a national inquiry into body image established.

It noted things had changed significantly since the 2009 development of a voluntary industry code of conduct on body image.

Parliament’s social media and online safety inquiry is due to report back by February 15.

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