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Banning Pro-Eating Disorder Words On Instagram Doesn't Work

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Instagram banning certain content has been nothing if not controversial (like their ridiculous ban on #Curvy). But at least the intentions behind some of the app giant's bans seem to be well-meaning.

In 2012, Instagram cracked down on words like "thighgap" and "thinspiration," which are commonly used by pro-eating disorder communities. Legit move, right? Under the bans, users can still use the restricted words in posts ("thighgap" images won't be taken down from your page) but you can no longer search for those terms to find images. #sorrynotsorry (Find out Why "Fitspiration" Instagram Posts Aren't Always Inspiring.)

But it turns out those restrictions not only aren't doing any good, they might actually be making the problem worse, according to a new study from Georgia Tech University.

The Georgia Tech team looked at 2.5 million pro-eating disorder posts on Instagram between 2011 and 2014, and they found that instead of the ban squashing the activity of pro-eating disorder communities—which exist to share content that encourages eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia—it actually ended up forcing members to become more engaged.

Pro-eating disorder users got creative. What started as 17 restricted words exploded into hundreds of variations (there are 107 different variations of "thighgap" alone—ugh). (P.S. The thigh gap is just one of 5 Common Body Goals That Are Totally Unrealistic.)

And according to the study, overall participation and support in pro-eating disorder communities has actually risen by as much as 30 percent since the bans took effect.

So what's the alternative? Rather than banning the terms from all searches and facilitating more engagement by making users in these communities more creative, the researchers suggest allowing them to remain searchable—but with an important tweak. They suggest including helpful links to support groups and resources whenever the negative terms are searched.

Sounds like a plan to help keep our #goals in perspective.

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