An honest letter to Instagram - TRIGGER WARNING

February 14, 2019
Before I get into the letter to Instagram, I just want to give you a heads up that this content will be upsetting to most if not all readers. It may also trigger people as there is talk of eating disorders, self-harm and suicide attempts in it. I am in no way glorifying mental illness in anyway in fact the complete opposite. I want to share a part of my experience growing up… in a world it’s so easy to get access to graphic, repulsive images.

Many of you may be aware that their has been a lot in the news lately about Instagram but I felt that I myself wanted to share some personal information with you all about my experience as I have felt at times some information hasn’t been 100% accurate as it hasn’t touched every base it should have.


Dear Instagram,

Where do I even start. I first started using your platform aged 13 to keep up to date with my friends. I loved the fact it was more of a ‘young folks’ platform unlike Facebook where everyone and their granny, literally in my case, was on it. I loved that I could post pictures and that was the main aim of the platform... to express yourself through a photo. The dream of all platforms for me, a photography lover.

A year or so after first accessing your platform I started struggling with an eating disorder and quickly after a search for ‘weight loss tips’ I uncovered a whole other side of Instagram to the one I knew and loved... the dark side. Not images or information a 14 year old should have access to, let alone anyone.

Pictures of skeletal bodies. Bodies that almost looked likes corpses. People posting almost fully naked pictures of themselves managing to wrap their two hands round their upper thigh, lying on their backs showing their con-caved stomachs with ribs protruding. Constant never-ending pictures of scales showing people’s lowering weights. People boasting about having xyz bmi. People praising them and asking for ‘tips’ and ‘tricks’
When I mean ‘tips’ and ‘tricks’, I don’t mean anything like the NHS website would class as a ‘weight loss diet’... far from that. What I mean is people condoning: fasting, eating only one food, for example 3 apples in one day, or severely restricting. Tips on how to hide food from your parents. Advice on which exercises burn the most calories and how quickly. Recommendations on the tricks of purging behaviours (how to make yourself puke after a meal, use of laxatives and diuretics).

It quickly seemed normal to hear people talking about how they ‘faked’ their weight to their already concerned outpatient teams and how they made their blood results look better than they probably were. It also wasn’t unusual to see pictures of people being tube fed, captioned ‘I’m too fat for this’ with people commenting ‘I wish I looked like you’ or ‘goals 😍’.

At times they had competitions on who could lose x kilos the quickest, who could get away with not eating for the longest or who could take the most laxatives. People competed... they competed at who could be the ‘illest’ and could best manipulate people in real life, those real people who cared for them and were having to watch them self-destructing.

Instagram, the dark side of your platform was worse than some of the things I saw on pro anorexia websites and... that’s me saying something as I saw some vile things on them. I respect that others may ask “well why did you look?”. The honest answer is I don’t really know, in my defence I was young and naive and stumbled on something very dark and sinister. Somehow as I watched from the safety of my cosy home it still felt safe –then it became addictive and, in some ways, glamourized. I even started to convince myself it was all quite normal!
Quickly after I found the dark side regarding eating disorders... I found the self-mutilation side. I came across one account that had 10k followers, I won’t quote the user name even though it sticks in my mind. The person posting had gaping wounds all over their body, that was bad enough but the fact they had that so many followers made me feel sick.

I’ve seen people telling others how they tried to kill themselves. How many tablets they took in overdoses etc. I’ve seen videos without trigger warnings of people slicing their arms open, teaching others how to self-harm. Not only that... I once by accident clicked on a live stream of someone taking a huge overdose and another time someone live streaming a mental health act assessment. The number of stories people have put up with pictures of bottles of poisonous substances, medication, blades, knives, puke, laxatives, wounds and even pictures of them at certain places about to kill themselves is unreal.

The terrifying thing is that I first witnessed stuff like this back in 2014/5 (when it wasn’t ever in the media or acknowledged it was going on) and to this day it’s STILL carrying on. Time and time again, I’ve reported countless accounts, posts, videos, stories and live streams (of people sharing things that glorify self-harm, eating disorders etc.) and I more often than not get a message back saying ‘this doesn’t violate Instagram’s guidelines. Yet, these things shouldn’t be online.

I can’t believe it has taken so many deaths to highlight how dangerous and awful part of your platform is. I’ve witnessed people claiming to be 11 (it’s probably normal now to be on Instagram at this age, another issue) and finding themselves in the dark side of your platform.
There still is a place in my heart for your platform, for those reasons I first started using it. To share photography and memories. I also acknowledge that some good comes from finding the positive messages in the recovery accounts, although great care is needed as some draw you back to the darker side. I just wish I had never been drawn to a place that I now must recover from, I just wish the policing of your platform was 100 times better. I know you are reportedly going to ‘now’ do something to remedy this, but really... why has it taken so long? Why have you allowed it to go on for years? Why has it taken countless young people to die? Why is it so hard for you to take down accounts? Has your platform been the ‘cause’ of soaring high levels of people self-harming and struggling with mental health?

Instagram needs to act urgently to help develop a future that promotes stronger mental health for young people. A future that works to build resilience and that safeguards from exposure to damaging and at times life threatening content. A future where Instagram stands up to the mark and collaborates with other bodies, based on sound research, to develop and finance resources to repair the damage done and to ensure it does not continue.

Regards,
Instagram User - @beccasloveforlife_

If you want to know more about my battle with suicidal thoughts, eating disorders and self harm I have a mental health section here

If what I have discussed in this post has upset you please contact the Samaritans or another crisis line but it would also be really kind of you if you could share this post with others and get the message out their about the dark side of Instagram. 
beccasloveforlife
beccasloveforlife

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Comments

  1. I think your point about instagram facing up to it's responsibility is very valid. They're making money out of young people and it's about time they picked up the tab for the misery the content they allow is causing. They need to demonstrate their social conscience.

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  2. I did not know about this side of instagram, because the worries about my weight are something I keep to myself. This took me by surprise, thank you so much for raising my awareness.

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad I raised your awareness but please be careful. Don't bottle up your weight concerns to yourself, speak to someone who you trust and they might be able to help you.

      Becca x

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