It’s time for the Online Safety Act to reflect the eating disorder crisis in Australia.
This is why I’m proposing changes to the Act that would grant the eSafety Commissioner the power to request the removal of pro-eating disorder content online and place a positive duty of care on online platforms for their users’ wellbeing.
Every parent should be able to feel confident that their child is protected from the dangers of social media. Currently, the eSafety Commissioner can intervene, typically with Removal Notices, for content such as cyber-bullying, intimate images uploaded without consent and cyber-abuse material.
There is no mention of the term eating disorder, or related terms such as suicide or self-harm.
If they were in the Act, the public would also be able to make complaints to the Commissioner.
Of all the eating disorder types, anorexia nervosa poses the greatest life-threatening health risk, with the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.
Social media sites such as TikTok and Instagram carry pro-eating disorder content that encourages thinness and glorifies low body weight as ideal. On these sites, people compete for thinness.
This content is unhealthy and dangerous.
The 2022 Butterfly Foundation’s Body Kind Youth Survey of 12-to-18-year olds in Australia found that almost half of young people reported being dissatisfied with how their body looks.
62% wished they were thinner/leaner.
63.7% wished they were more muscular.
Around 50% said their body image has stopped them from raising their hand in class, focussing on schoolwork, and going to school.
72.5% reported that they experienced appearance-teasing at school.
The Survey also found social media platforms play a role in the development and maintenance of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders.
Almost 50% said social media made them feel dissatisfied with their body.
Over 70% thought social media platforms need to do more to help young people have a positive body image.
Taking down harmful content that encourages extreme dieting won’t fix the eating disorders epidemic.
It’s just one piece of the problem but one that would make a difference to the lives of young Australians.