A Double Dare for Facebook

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Once upon a time a 20-year-old girl named Bridget came home from college, opened her laptop, and discovered a weight-loss ad on her Facebook homepage. Aside from being a 20-year-old girl, Bridget is also an anorexia survivor.

And thus Facebook’s name moved to the top of my shit list.

As mostly everyone with an internet presence is aware, Facebook recently started plastering advertisements on users’ personal homepages. Unsurprisingly, a free service like Facebook needs to obtain a profit somehow and conveniently, the Facebook homepage is an advertiser’s wildest dream. Picture walking through your front door only to slam right into someone twirling a sign, and there you have the unavoidable nature of ads on homepages.

I get it. I know it’s a hard knock life in the competitive world of business. My issue isn’t ugly, incessant advertising on my homepage. I spend enough time IRL that I can deal.  But instead of being begged to buy Converse or eat Taco Bell, I’m being told to minimize my body, in spite of the fact that I’m at a healthy weight.  I’m told to diet despite any past history of starving. My issue is Facebook’s complacency with hitting young female users where it hurts.

Facebook states that it chooses advertising based on information obtained from your use of the site and information gathered about you from third parties. Although I have completely steered clear of anything even mildly related to weight loss, dieting, etc. as part of my recovery, Facebook seems to think I would be interested in shrinking my waist size or losing 20 pounds. Why would that be if I have a total absence of keystrokes toward those interests?

Considering I’m a female user within the young adult demographic, that surely plays a part in what ads Facebook thinks will interest me. To scout this out further, I asked the young ladies of my Facebook friend list if they too had frequently seen weight-loss advertising appearing on their homepages. The answer was a resounding yes.

Why this matters is no secret. Women are predominately more likely to have eating disorders than men, with only an estimated 5 to 15% of victims being male. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), 95% of eating disorder victims are between the ages of 12 and 25.  While young girls are the most prone to eating disorders, they are also one of Facebook’s largest demographics.

We live in a world where little sisters are afraid to pack chocolate pudding in their lunchboxes and Demi Lovato is called “fat” by the media the second she steps out of rehab for an eating disorder. At every twist and turn, from the radio to television to the latest issue of Cosmo, there are voices telling girls how to cut 100 calories from any meal, shrink their inner thighs, and melt fat FAST. Now their Facebook homepage will be one more shit-talker to add to the mix of self-loathing.

In Facebook’s defense, you can click the “X” on an ad to make it disappear. However, once the ad has been seen, the damage has already been done. For those unfamiliar with eating disorder triggers, they deeply affect the psyche of a survivor and are to be avoided at all costs. A trigger can stimulate the desire to starve or purge again, and send survivors into a self-harm frenzy that requires steel will to resist.

Although popular entertainment has largely misled the public into thinking eating disorders are just a manageable accessory for blonde homecoming queens, vomiting/starving is um, not a hobby to be considered as harmless as cheerleading. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Yes, eating disorders are a mental illness, and yes – they kill people. Frequently. Victims can die from anything from heart failure to organ failure and many survivors live with medical complications as a result of the damage done to their bodies.

Facebook is a multi-billion dollar company and a renowned success story for social networking websites. The signature blue and white layout emerges in the mind’s eye whenever the name is so much as mentioned in conversation. Mark Zuckerberg is balancing the world on the tip of his finger. And even though it pains me to whip out this cliché Spiderman quote in a humorless context, apparently “With great power comes great responsibility.” is still something that needs to be heard. So here it is, officially and earnestly, a dare for The Social Network itself: Do your part to protect female youth.  That includes not contributing to the larger problem at hand.

2 Comments
  1. thank you so much, bridget. i had the same exact experience last week and i really appreciate your eloquent explanation of exactly what i’ve been feeling!

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