Oversight Board Says Meta Shouldn’t Incentivize Extreme Dieting

Oversight Board Says Meta Shouldn't Incentivize Extreme Dieting

Meta’s Oversight Board wants the company to revise its policies to prevent it from incentivizing creators who post about dangerous extreme diets. As of now, creators posting through Meta’s Partner Monetization Program can earn ad revenues off of content that describes people trying to survive on only juice or no food at all for extended periods of time. The Board thinks that needs to change.

“Meta should amend these policies to better meet its human rights responsibilities, given the research showing that users, especially adolescents, are vulnerable to harmful diet-related content,” the Oversight Board said in a new case decision shared exclusively with Gizmodo.

“It’s important that Meta should not provide financial benefits to create this type of content,” the Board added.

Those policy recommendations were part of a new case decision revolving around two controversial Facebook video posts from 2022 and 2023. The first video features a man interviewing a woman in Thailand who’s recounting her experience subsisting on a diet of only fruit juice. The woman claims she stopped eating solid foods because she previously suffered from skin issues and swollen legs. She claims the juice diet addresses some of those skin problems, gave her improved focus, and left her with a “feeling of lightness.” It also resulted in her rapidly losing 22 pounds.

The second video, filmed in 2023, involved the same man filming the woman a year later to follow up on her diet. When the man asked the now extremely thin woman about her weight loss, she reportedly claimed she had not lost weight, but instead, had shed “four kilos of impurities.” She went on to say she wants to begin a “prana,” which she described as living “only on energy,” no food at all.

Both of the videos combined received around 11,000 reactions, 13,000 comments, and over 200,000 views. Several Facebook users flagged the content for removal, arguing that it violated Meta’s policy of prohibiting content that promotes Suicide or Self Injury. In their view, these videos could encourage anorexia. Those appeals were closed by Meta’s automated systems because human content moderators had previously determined the content was non-violating. Undeterred, the concerned users appealed once again that the content encouraged an unhealthy lifestyle and could drive others, particularly impressionable teens, to follow suit.

Extreme diet posts didn’t break Meta’s rules

In its 15-page decision released today, the Oversight Board upheld Meta’s decision to keep the videos up and agreed neither of them rose to the level of violating the company’s policies around suicide and self-injury. Though the content in the video clearly described a potentially dangerous diet, the Board determined it didn’t “promote, encourage, coordinate, or provide instructions for eating disorders.” Even the user’s mention of the “pranic journey”—which the Board acknowledges can be extremely dangerous—still didn’t violate the guidelines because it was “descriptive in nature.”

But just because the content doesn’t meet the threshold for removal doesn’t mean it couldn’t pose some harm. The Board largely agreed with the appealers who feared content like this be particularly harmful for adolescents and teen girls, who studies repeatedly show are susceptible to anorexia and eating disorder content on social media.

Oversight Board says Meta should not create financial incentives for extreme dieting content

Both of the posts under review were part of Meta’s Partner Monetization Program, which gives creators the opportunity to earn money from posts when Meta runs ads against them. These types of ad-generating posts are required to abide by Meta’s at time stricter Content Monetization policies. Even there, however, the Board found that the posts still weren’t in violation. They believe that needs to change.

In a non-binding recommendation, the Board said Meta should adjust its policies so that it does not give creators a financial incentive to post extreme dieting content. The Board says that’s all the more important given the popularity of lifestyle influencers on both Facebook and Instagram. A smaller minority of the Oversight Board’s members went a step further and believed these types of videos should be restricted to only users over the age of 18.

“The majority of the Board considers the omission of ‘extreme and harmful diet-related content’ as a restricted category in Meta’s Content Monetization policies a conspicuous and concerning one,” the Board wrote.

Meta, in its response to questions from the Board, said it didn’t want to over- or under-enforce on content “related to body image or health status.” Instead, the company said it wants its social platforms to be places for people to openly share their experiences and journeys around body image and self-acceptance. Meta, according to the Board, said it did not consider fruit juice-only diets an eating disorder. Meta did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s follow-up questions.

The Oversight Board decision comes just one week after 41 states sued Meta over allegations that Facebook and Instagram are harmful for teens and kids. The lawsuit, and others before it, argue Meta places profits over safety by serving up potentially harmful content for children that’s likely to drive engagement. Meta, in response, pointed to areas where it has added new safety tools for young users over the years.

Though academics and researchers are still mixed on the overall effect social media has on young users’ development, a growing body of research has shown links between high social media usage and eating disorders. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy cited some of those studies in a recent public advisory report, in which he said there are “ample indicators” that social media poses a “profound risk of harm” to children’s mental health and development.

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